Francesca Halsall talks to The Times newspaper (online: subscription service) today about how she wrestled with a shoulder injury that remained a secret throughout London 2012, coped with home Olympics disappointment and emerged from a crisis of confidence feeling stronger and more in control of her destiny.
After her Loughborough coach Ben Titley left for a job in Canada, Halsall called James Gibson, the coach of Florent Manaudou, the Olympic 50 metres freestyle champion, in Marseilles and asked if she could spend a few weeks training in France. She discovered that Gibson, the former Britain swimmer and world champion who had swum on teams with the young Halsall, was coming her way to be sprint coach at her Loughborough club.
He may stay there longer than planned now after a £4m cut in funding will force a rethink of British Swimming plans to set up a sprint centre at the London 2012 pool. Good news for Halsall, she believes, desire, facilities and good coaching all rated higher than money on the list of what she needs to fulfil her potential.
At the London Games, Halsall, in the absence of an explanation as to why she was just far enough away from best form to make the difference between podium and 5th and 6th in the 50 and 100m free finals, faced questions about the "lack hunger and passion" in the British squad. One tabloid called her a "flop".
“I can assure you that there was nothing in the world that I wanted more that to win a medal,” Halsall told me yesterday. “I know that I am a better swimmer than the times I swam. It was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to me.”
The 22-year-old did not contemplate quitting but she struggled with self-doubt. "I questioned whether I was good enough. I told myself I wasn't a good swimmer and that perhaps I'd be better off doing something I was good at - like shopping! It was a confidence thing."
The gap between coaches, says Halsall, played to the theme of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"; it meant that she had taken charge of her own arrangements for once. “I took the responsibility ... I felt more in control," said Halsall, who worked with former swimmer Ian Hulme, who "had never coached in his life before" and told his speedy charge that she would have to work with him on setting the kind of work she needed to get back in shape after a post-Games break.
Halsall and other Olympic team members will meet David Sparkes, the chief executive of British Swimming, in January to thrash out their concerns after an intervention from Rebecca Adlington. “I have a big list ready,” said Halsall. It includes the use of supplements.
A leaked document from the review into London 2012 performances notes that “many countries explore the edge of support, whether it be altitude training or supplement related” but in Britain, for fear of a positive test, there was no sharing of “knowledge in an institutional way”.
Fear of unintentional positive tests because of contamination of supplements with banned substances is a factor. However, Halsall said that she trusts the products made by her sponsor, Multipower, and believes that such help should be rolled out to the whole squad in the way that such things are on the United States team. British cyclists take the same approach.
Supplementation itself requires interpretation. For example, US swimmers may take nothing more than Gatorade on certain teams but the references to them taking substances given to them by team doctors is clearly a matter of record and has at times been controversial: Misty Hyman and the case of Dr Glen Lupnitz in 2000 being a case in point. Dr Lupnitz said that wheat he gave swimmers was no more than a combination of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes but the specific combination of those was "a team secret."
The US has also had its issues with advice, or lack of advice, for swimmers in general and supplements have landed swimmers in hot water, the case of Jessica Hardy and contamination a case in point.
“In Istanbul, they [the US] ]all had the same electrolyte drink,” Halsall said. “We don’t have that [team approach]. The US does and it makes a difference. If it’s not illegal and can help you to recover between races, even if it’s beetroot juice, we need that news to be wider spread.”