Frontline hero Swann embracing Tokyo Olympic countdown

·4-min read
Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

When the Covid-19 crisis struck it was a case of everybody mucking in and for Olympic silver medallist Polly Swann, that meant combining rowing training with long days on hospital wards.

The 32-year-old graduated in medicine in 2019 and then turned her attentions back to qualifying for Tokyo 2020 when the pandemic hit.

So it was back to hospital and a three-month post on the wards supporting the surgeons – a role about which she was initially apprehensive.

“It’s going to be a bit weird when it all finishes,” said Swann, who is among 1,100 athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme, funded by The National Lottery, allowing her to train full-time and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

“It’s been really cool though. At the start we were all baby doctors who didn’t know what we were doing and now we’ve found our feet.

“It’s been a good experience and it’s nice to be able to contribute in a small way.

“Because I took a year out after finishing my degree last year, I’d done no clinical work for 12 months so coming in I think I was really apprehensive that I would be completely useless.

“But the knowledge is there. I’m working as part of the surgical team. They have been really supportive and it’s been really great to be involved.”

The return to work has meant Swann has been busier than most during crisis, still keeping up with her training while working a full-time job.

But Lancaster-born Swann, who won Olympic silver in Rio as part of the women’s eight, has found ways to combine work and training, with some new teammates to keep pushing her.

“The hospital is about half an hour away from where I live in the car, or a good hour on the bike,” added Swann, who bagged one of the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won since National Lottery funding started in 1997.

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“So I’ve been using that to my advantage and getting in a couple of training sessions. It’s great as a lot of the consultants I work with are into their bikes and road cycling so we try to link up and cycle into work together.

“It’s nice and they are very competitive so they often give me a run for my money going up the hills. I can’t let it slide and have to race them. I’m not built for cycling, I’m far too tall, but I give it my best shot!”

While not on the front line, Swann’s work has certainly brought into perspective the effects of the pandemic, and how fortunate she is to be an Olympic athlete.

And with an extra year to prepare for Tokyo, she plans to use that to her advantage.

“We are lucky in that we still have something in the distance to prepare for and it’s cool to have that purpose. But it does seem very distant,” she added.

“It’s been really interesting to be able to talk about how our training is going and be open and honest about it. There are definitely things we have learned from the lockdown process that hopefully we can take forwards.

“Before Coronavirus happened, Tokyo was going to be this great swansong, the last Olympics and after coming out of the sport for a while, it was this affirmation that I was a good enough athlete to do this.

“Now the meaning of the Tokyo Olympics has changed. It will mean so much more because of what has happened this year.

“We all have our personal goals and want to go and win and represent our country. But it will also be this celebration of how the world has come through a horrific period of time.

“If we can hold the Olympic Games, it will be this incredible celebration of human endeavour and to be able to be part of that would be absolutely phenomenal.”

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