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Jamieson: The Next Chapter, Part 1

Mar 6, 2013  - Craig Lord

The memory of tough times fuels Michael Jamieson’s mission to win medals at every significant international meeting all the way to Rio and a return to the Olympic podium after a silver medal in London.

In the dark of winter, when the alarm goes off before dawn, the 24-year-old needs only to touch a wall to remind himself what it took to get within a hand of Daniel Gyurta, the Hungarian who set a world-record time in the 200 metres breaststroke at the Games last year.

Three years ago, Jamieson was living in an attic in Paris that was so small he could touch the walls either side of him with his arms outstretched. He never took a shower; it was his wardrobe.

When he was not training with coach Fred Vergnoux, Jamieson would walk the streets longing to follow the crowds into the Louvre or take French lessons. “I had no money, so just sightseeing was all I could afford," he says. “I’d love to take lessons and become fluent in French, but at the time it was out of the question, far too expensive."

Jamieson considered quitting swimming to avoid “putting my parents under financial pressure", he recalled in a call from Sierra Neveda, Spain, where he is preparing for the World Championships in Barcelona later this year. His first test coming down from on high into racing will unfold this week at the British Gas International in Leeds (March 7-10).

Saturday brings the 200m and the latest clash with training partner and fellow Olympic finalist Andrew Willis, both men guided by Dave McNulty at Bath University. Asked what it was like to have a man he trains with by his side on race day, Jamiseon said: "I think overall it helps the both of us. There are days when it can be quite difficult: if you have a bad day and he's having a good day … its logical not to be happy about it. We handle it really well, he's a really good friend and I want to beat him and he wants to beat me."

Part pride and part confidence-builder for Barcelona, victory is what both men will seek come Saturday. Jamieson wants a season-debut sub-2:10 effort. "I've never raced off altitude camp before so this is something new for this season," notes Jamieson. "I'm a little bit nervous because I'm not taking too much rest but let's see what I can get. Winning is more important than the time right now but I want a fast time, something to give me some confidence going into worlds."

Whatever his personal performances pan out to be, the Olympic medallist wants the British Gas International to be the first of many more international challenges in home waters. "I hope it'll be the start of something that builds over the next few years and British Gas has got huge roll to play in that. 

Jamieson is an official ambassador for British Gas, the headline sponsor that is pumping £15m into British Swimming over six years. The Olympic medallist is one of the faces of a major campaign, "SwimBritain", to get more people swimming regularly by 2015. You can read more on that on Facebook.

"I'm delighted to be involved," says Jamieson. "I hope I can inspire people to take up swimming." Safety and health are key but if those can lead to more talent being fed into the elite pool for Britain, so much the better, says Jamieson.

A talent on the football pitch in his youth, Jamieson might have followed his father, Michael, who played for Heart of Midlothian, Alloa Athletic and Stenhousemuir, but, as a 12-year-old, the relative warmth of the pool found favour over dashing about in shorts in the midst of a Scottish winter. Swimming turned out not to be the easier option that it seemed at the time.

Jamieson lived in the shadow of his second love, Celtic Park, not far from the Tollcross pool in the east end of Glasgow where he trained as a boy and will race for gold in the Commonwealth Games next year. Luxury was a car ride before the sun came up.

“I can remember my little sister, Lauren, being bundled into the car at 4.30am because dad had to get me to training when mum [Jackie] was working down south," Jamieson says. “There were some tough years and that shapes who you are." Jamieson will graduate this summer in Sports Performance from Bath, as the first of his family to attend university.

“If I’d finished fourth in London, I would have said that it was not worth it," he says. “I’m absolutely delighted with the journey I took, with the way it turned out. Always wanting more, having an attitude that I always wanted to be better and worked for that from my youth, served me well."

We'll bring you more on Jamieson, his journey and why he is loving his sport when the action gets underway in Leeds and the meet is done.

A version of this article, with an interesting line on metabolism, appears in The Times, London, today.