Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 28th 2014 Contents ally comes to a close.
George Bovell s first Reflections
off the Water column will appear on
Two more years at the top
It s been a long and productive
career for the 31-year-old, whose
Olympic career began at the age of
just 17 in Sydney, when he placed in
the heats of the 100m Freestyle, and
the 200m and 400m Individual
He says he has two years left in
swimming and fully intends to be at
the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
"If you wanna be at the top of the
sport, this is the ultimate rat race,"
he says in an accent that isn t dis-
tinctively Trinidadian (he says he
speaks more Trini when talking to
other Trinis and less Trini when
speaking to foreigners). "I have to
get out of the country and train with
top-level athletes and go places
where I can get intuitive feedback."
Hence the Michigan project, where
Bovell s coach is now head coach.
He says he will revolve around the
University of Michigan as a training
base in between international events,
the most important of which this
year is not the Commonwealth
Games but the World Champi-
onships in Doha, Qatar in December.
To achieve his aim of a record fifth
Olympics in 2016, it s not so much
the physical barriers he has to over-
come, he explains.
"It s not a question of what your
body can do, I think your 30s are
your real prime---it s just the oppor-
tunity cost gets higher. Because, to
be at the top level of this sport you
have to really commit to it and there s
not much room for other aspects of
It s something people forget when
thinking about top-level sport---
bombarded with the lifestyles of rich
and famous athletes in the Premier
League, La Liga, NFL and NBA, it s
easy to forget there are sports which
still sit at the intersection of amateur
and professional. They require sac-
rifice and the generosity of parents,
benefactors or the government to
fund athletes competing at the high-
Bovell extends the sacrificial train
of thought, saying one has to choose
whether they want to "experience a
very broad range of experiences in
life or whether you want to expe-
rience one thing, very deeply. I ve
tried to find the balance as best as
Asked about the struggles he
speaks of, he says he was told about
swimmers whose parents pushed
them hard, who told tales of mis-
ery---getting up before the crack of
dawn to swim endless laps in a freez-
ing cold pool before school.
So did he decide to become a
swimmer or did somebody decide
"Swimming was decided for me.
I was doing many sports and, at
around eight years old, I got to travel
for swimming, I went to Martinique,
and it was something that wasn t a
team trip with football or gymnastics,
and I got serious about it."
It sounds like the individualism
of the swimmer was appealing.
And does he feel, like Mark Spitz,
more comfortable in the water than
"No, but I enjoy it. It s the closest
feeling you can get to flying."
His speciality, 50m freestyle, he
describes as "the closest race in all
of sport." Sometimes first and last
place are separated by mere hun-
dredths of a second.
Incredibly, in this ultra-fast sport
(one lap of an Olympic-sized pool,
in which competitors move at around
2.3 metres per second or 5.3 miles
per hour) swimmers must hold their
breath for the entire lap.
But the mind-bending part of it,
for Bovell, is the psychology. You
have to "get as pumped up as pos-
sible---while at the same time
remaining composed," he says.
On the starting blocks swimmers
hold their breath even before the
starter calls, "On your marks."
"You take a big breath standing
up, because it s hard to take a full
inhalation of air in the crouched
position, and at the same time you re
trying to get yourself into their state
of excitement and arousal but
remaining very, very calm so you
can hold your breath."
Most swimmers remain under-
water, dolphin-kicking, for 15 metres
before surfacing. Some stay under
for longer. Even when they surface
they don t breathe, but stay face
down in the water.
"To turn your head, and inhale
and exhale, would break your rhythm
and slow your tempo," Bovell explains
"and you can t exhale as much air
as you ve just taken in. You re slightly
more buoyant and, in a race that
close, you can win or lose by how
high you float, or by taking a breath."
'We joke and call ourselves
the Third World All-Stars'
Bovell loves to travel and it s that
and the "fraternity" feel of the swim-
ming community that has main-
tained his love for the sport.
"Within about 12 days (of his first
international competition) I d been
drawn into the centre. People intro-
duce you to somebody who intro-
duces you to somebody else..."
He s already been to Brazil and to
Qatar three times. Of London in 2012
he says he enjoyed it, but there was
a "suppressive feel of security."
Squads of guys in black jumpsuits
holding rifles in the village, missiles
on roofs, helicopters circling. He says
the psychological impact was intense
for the athletes. Asked who his
friends are in swimming, and
whether Michael Phelps, the most
decorated Olympian of all time, is
amongst them, Bovell says no.
"I m from T&T: We don t even
have places to sit sometimes, because
the bigger teams take all the seats
and pool deck space. Generally peo-
ple from those larger teams tend to
look down on us, Oh, you re from
Trinidad, you must be Third World.
What are you doing here? We re not
"One of my good friends is a
Kenyan swimmer, Jason Dunford,
we ve kind of formed a support group
for each other. We joke and call our-
selves the Third World All-Stars."
"We can t even host an interna-
tional swimming event here," he says
But next May the George Bovell
Aquatic Centre will be completed
and unveiled. It s an honour for a
man for whom the sport of swim-
ming has brought him so much and
which he loves immensely.
Asked what his proudest achieve-
ment in the sport is, you d expect
him to say the bronze he won in
Athens---a tangible reminder of suc-
cess---but his answer is the hallmark
of a true athlete.
"At one time I broke the world
record and I held it for two years.
To me, as an old man, I ll look back
and say, Once I was the best there
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, July 28, 2014
'I'm from T&T, we don't even have places to sit
sometimes because the bigger teams take all the
seats and pool deck space. Generally people from
those larger teams tend to look down on us, 'Oh,
you're from Trinidad, you must be Third World.
What are you doing here?' We're not respected.'
Bovell: It's the closest you get to flying
Bovell shows off his World Championships medals.
Continued from Page B1
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