SOME people tend to shy away from a challenge, some will embrace it head on. Ennis-born High Performance swimmer Chris Bryan falls into the latter category.
After a horrendously unfortunate year in which the 22-year-old missed out on qualifying for the London Olympics by photo finish and then had to endure the turmoil of a far from seamless change of coach, Bryan is back with a vengeance.
He came first in the Portugal Open Water Nationals last weekend in a 10km race against elite competition, with almost half of the 43 entrants failing to even complete the race.
Bryan highlighted his storming finish as key to the victory, saying: “I gave it a big push from 4km as that was then the British competitor broke away. I pushed on again for the last 3km as I wanted to test how I felt and I finished strongly.
“It was over 10km, which is the Olympic distance. It was only 17 or 18 degrees so it was a cold enough day for it. That would be brilliant here but the minimum temperature on the world circuit is 16 degrees.
“There was some very strong competition. There were swimmers from Portugal, which is a strong country, and the runner-up came 18th in the Olympics last year. You had British teams there as well.
“I was just off the back of exams for college so I wanted to compete in such a good quality event to test myself.”
He has a hectic summer schedule to look forward to, with further achievement in prospect at the World University Games in Russia and the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona.
With both events in such close proximity in July, Bryan has implemented a regimented training schedule and the university event in Kazan also comes with a view to the long-term.
“It’s the same venue where the 2015 World Championships will be held and there will be 10 Olympic places up for grabs at it. I’d much rather qualify for the Olympics a year in advance than trying to qualify in 2016 with only two months to prepare for the Games.
“I’ve broken down my training into four-week blocks. I’m going to Barcelona in June for a trial event for the World Championships. There are a lot of aspects to it, such as testing the water, the tactics and getting used to the venues where I’ll be competing.
“Then I’m going to Russia for the University Games on July 17 and after that it’s straight to Barcelona on July 22 for the World Championships.”
Bryan has unfinished business with the Olympics after agonisingly missing out on London last year and that crushing disappointment was followed by the controversial dismissal of coach Ronald Claes.
Bryan described the situation as “tough and not ideal”, but he has taken quite well to Claes’ replacement Lars Humer.
“I did a bit of research on Lars before he came in and I saw that he had plenty of open water knowledge and he’s from New Zealand where swimming is huge.
“Ronald is a fantastic coach although he’s rather young, whereas Lars has more experience and me and him work brilliantly together.
“He helped me to a 9th-place finish at my first open water competition of the year in Israel, which was very encouraging after a messy few months.
“We met with Ronald after the Olympics last year and we were very disappointed that he was let go. It was tough for us and, even though Peter Banks took over for a while, we were in limno which wasn’t ideal.
“It was my last year in college too so I wasn’t going to stick around [if the situation wasn’t resolved].”
The resolution of the coaching situation in January no doubt came as a weight off Bryan’s shoulders, given that he was already contending with an inhumanely busy schedle.
He explained that competing at the highest level of swimming requires a religious-like dedication.
“It can be gruelling training. I’m up at 4:30am and in the pool for 5am six mornings a week. It’s an unforgiving sport and just showing up at 5am is not half of the job.
“People say it’s an individual sport but you need a good squad of 10-12 people and it takes certain people to train six mornings a week. It’s not normal.
“I put too much work into it to not do it right. You have to dedicate your life to it and go 100% at it. You can’t give 90% and cut corners.
“You also need to enjoy it and find a balance, switch off and spend time with friends and family. The harder I work at it, the sweeter it feels when I win.”
After his heartbreaking Olympic near-miss and the unstable coaching situation to contend with in the last 12 months, Chris Bryan has hard to work even harder than most elite swimmers to maintain his successful form. And, as he himself would tell you, swimming at such a level requires Trojan work.
How sweet it would be if, over the coming weeks, he obtains the success that had so cruelly cheated him in 2012.