Australian Olympian Eamon Sullivan was in Corowa yesterday to help launch a national campaign to highlight and prevent children drowning. To launch Swim Kids Operation 10,000, Sullivan is spending 2000 minutes (33 hours) “living” at the Corowa pool. The push to teach 10,000 Aussie kids to swim became a passion after a near-drowning experience in his pool when he was a young child. In between making a splash and doing a few laps, the Perth superfish took time out from his ambassadorial role to speak with Jack Baker about Rio 2016, the issue of drugs in sport and the pressures of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
JACK BAKER: Eamon, you’re back living in Perth and enjoying a year off competitive swimming, is Rio 2016 Olympics still in your sights?
EAMON SULLIVAN: It’s definitely on my list. I just had shoulder surgery in November last year and I’m a couple of days away from being able to get back into the water. I’m having the year just to refresh and get the body back to 100 per cent and I’ll start racing again towards the end of the year. The first race back will probably be at the Commonwealth Games trials but the main goal is getting to Rio.
JB: How motivated are you to continue swimming for the next 3½ to four years?
ES: At the moment I’m in a very good place in terms of having balance with my life. I’m working in my cafe, opening a restaurant and still training and doing a lot of cycling and weights. I’m getting my life after swimming set up so having that on the side is great.
I’m sure once the World Championship trials roll around the competitive juices will start flowing again. The motivation is still there it’s just that it’s been 14 years since I’ve had this long of a break.
It’s great to be able to take a step back, refresh the body and the mind and I’m looking forward to getting back into next year at 100 per cent.
JB: Drugs have become the biggest issue in sport. Is doping something you’ve heard of or believe to be happening in professional swimming?
ES: To be honest no. You’d like to think there’s not but I guess it shows recently with Lance Armstrong that if you’re that motivated to cheat, where there’s a will there’s a way. I’d like to think swimming is one of the cleaner sports.
JB: What about these powerfully built guys like (French and Brazil superstars) Alain Bernard and Cesar Cielo? Does it ever make you wonder?
ES: If it creeps into your mind that your competitors are doping it’s just another mental barrier you have to get over so I just try and let my swimming do the talking. Every now and then you do have those swims where you wonder how you’re going to beat these guys because they’re so good. The issue of drugs is going to be a massive talking point for how ever long. Hopefully if there is drugs in swimming the media attention will make people think twice about doping and will bring a bit more testing to make it better for people who are doing it legally.
JB: Will you be focusing more on the 50-metre or 100-metre races ahead of Rio?
ES: I’m going to specifically train for the 50 metres for the next 3½ years but at the same time I’ll do a few hundreds every now and then and see how it’s going. It will be hard to do three years of 100-metre-specific training with my body the way it’s been.
JB: You’re 27, is your best racing past you?
ES: The whole reason for this year off is to refresh. I’ve spent the past four years chasing my tail with injuries and trying to get fit for events in six weeks. Every meet I had I seemed to be behind the eight ball. If everything goes to plan this year I’ll be in better shape than ever.
JB: You were favourite for the 50-metre final and one of the favourites for the 100-metre final in Beijing. You finished second in the 100 metres and sixth in the 50 metres. Do you see those results as a missed opportunity for an Olympic gold medal?
ES: It’s definitely a missed opportunity, there’s not many chances you get at an Olympic gold medal. I wasn’t favourite for the 100 metres but I broke the record for it in the semi-final. No one put any pressure on me except for myself. I was in China so the media wasn’t in English which was probably a bonus.
JB: Was it a similar situation with James Magnussen in London?
ES: James was quite public with his confidence and he’s a confident guy and unfortunately he put himself in harder situation than what I was in. I definitely felt his pain. You can be as confident as you like but you have to back it up on the day. There’s no doubt he had the potential to win.
JB: Can you describe the pressure of competing at the Olympics?
ES: Olympic Games are just one of those things where, until you’ve been to one, you can’t really prepare for how hard it is to mentally be ready for anything that happens.
It was definitely something that I struggled with in Beijing after the disappointment of the 100 metres and trying to get back up and swim again in the 50. It’s just a very emotionally draining experience.
I don’t regret anything, it’s a missed opportunity and hindsight is one of the best tools you can have but unless you have a time machine there’s not much you can do about it. All you can do is just move on and the more I think about it a silver medal at the Olympics is far more than anything I thought I’d achieve in anything in life.
JB: After huge success at the Sydney and Athens Olympics do you feel Australian media puts unfair pressure on its swimmers to win?
ES: Sometimes there’s an unfair expectation and it’s disappointing when we train as hard as we do, to be criticised for not coming away with a gold.
Swimmers themselves are proud and so is most of Australia but there’s just a few negative people who try and put a dampener on how special it is. It’s one thing beating yourself up for coming second but when the media and other people beat you up for trying your best it’s pretty disappointing and that’s the hardest thing from the whole experience for me.