In Part 1 I started chatting to rising swimming star and new member of the WatchFit Experts family – Ekaterina Abramova. Here she tells us about her Olympic experiences, encounters with a President and the wrath of a fellow swimmer’s parent…
You had a fairly tumultuous few years in Bulgaria then having to adjust to the sudden shift of moving to England, but ultimately you’d found a new and welcoming home in London, a top swimming club and had risen to new heights of performance and rankings. Next up – The Olympic Games!
Absolutely! The biggest sporting event on the planet, the highest honour we as swimmers can have in terms of qualification and participation. From a girl who was terrified of bath water to become an Olympian is just magical!
You have competed in London and Rio. But this was under two different flags?
Yes it was for Bulgaria (London 2012) and Turkey (Rio 2016). I know it seems odd but this is the way of the modern sporting world. Turkey is very active at identifying talent and if that talent has seemingly made a break from their own country, as I had when I left Bulgaria, then they waste little time in make an approach.
They are very good, very attentive, provide you with the appropriate support such as medical back-up when injured and generally have a good structure. Everything lacking at the time with my home country.
I’m Turkish National Record holder in all backstroke events, both short and long course and I take my responsibilities to Turkish swimming very seriously and am always determined to repay their faith in me.
So by the age of 24 you’d had two Olympic experiences. How were they?
Amazing and completely varied!
London 2012 was incredible in many ways. It was my ‘home’ Olympics and qualifying for it was the biggest moment in my career. The whole thing was magical – it ran superbly, the support was amazing – across all sports – and just the whole atmosphere from the opening to the closing ceremony was quite magical.
I was only 20 and it was my first step up to this level. I was happy with how I acquitted myself and I didn’t feel overawed on the biggest stage.
And four years later you are doing it all again in Rio. How was this experience?
Errrrr, rather different!
To have continued to progress during the Olympic cycle and turn up as a more experienced more advanced swimmer was great, I felt more like I belonged at this level this time, but there was quite a lot about Rio that was not ideal.
And it started before I even got there. A few days before we set off for Brazil I was giving an interview in my hotel. So there I was with cameraman, journalist, somebody filming, there was also an interpreter and one or two other media people.
Then a man burst into the lobby and went mad at me. He said all kinds of things and threatened to break my legs. It was quite distressing and the police had to be called. Turns out he was the father of another swimmer who I’d beaten and was not now going to the Olympics.
Lets face it, If you are ever going to cause a scene and an affray and threaten very real bodily harm, it’s best not to do it in front of journalists and cameramen! As you might imagine this got quite a bit of news coverage and the kind of attention I really could have done without days before the Games.
On the eve of the Olympics the entire Turkish team was assembled for a very grand dinner hosted by the President. During the evening he made his way round the huge square table arrangement and was introduced to every athlete.
As soon as he got to me he said, “Ah Ekaterina, I heard all about what happened to you. What a horrible experience, are you OK?” I told him I was fine and was just focussed on Rio. He then said, “That’s good to hear. Well if you want me to do anything about that man, you can let me know…”.
I didn’t know what to make of that, but I was just amazed he knew anything at all about me!
And in case you are wondering, I did not ask the Turkish President to do anything about that upset Dad!
Interesting preparation! So onto Rio itself, what was that like?
In terms of Rio I want to be fair and diplomatic…
It must be said that, by all accounts, London was the most successful Olympics of all time – on every level it was an unqualified success, so comparing whoever followed it was always going to be tough on them. And of course Brazil has lots of economic and social issues which made it hard for them to host as they’d have wished.
But pretty much everything from the quality of some of the facilities, transport, security and accommodation was way short of what we might have expected.
I couldn’t believe the food that was laid on in the athletes village. Put it this way, I ate pizzas three days in a row. Not exactly the dinner of champions but it was either that or I wouldn’t have eaten at all!
Then we had our room broken into – the door was completely removed! OK, at least there will be CCTV footage from the numerous cameras everywhere, we thought. But no. As a cost cutting measure many of the cameras were not working!
There were so many things that were not ideal – the transportation was a total mess – but it would be churlish to dwell to much on these. It was still the Olympics and it was still an incredible thing to be part of with the world looking on.
I went to the Opening Ceremony this time – usually swimmers miss out because our events are up first – but my event was at the end of the programme. It was an interesting experience and must have looked incredible on TV. The bit you don’t see though is us athletes milling around behind the scenes waiting for hours and hours before walking in and waving for a lap.
The entrance and being able to experience the crowd is truly wonderful, but over three hours of waiting means I might have done my one and only opening ceremony!
And how did things go in the pool?
I was happy. You always think you can have found that extra fraction of course, but I won my heat and was quite happy with the time I gave.
The progressions are all there and things are pointing in the right direction and that is what any athlete is after. Keep making advances, learn, refine, improve. Sometimes we might want things to happen faster but steady, consistent, positive steps in the right direction is the ideal evolution of an athlete.
I have the British Nationals, immediately followed by the Turkish Nationals* which run into Christmas, then it’s a bit of family time in Bulgaria before getting back to London in early January when training continues as normal.
* Ekaterina won multiple meddles across both British and Turkish Nationals and also set a number of new national records.
I’ve an idea of your training itinerary and know it is hard work and pretty relentless, but you still seem to love what you do…
I really do. I feel privileged to to it – not necessarily every morning at 4.30am – but when I properly reflect on things! I’m able to test myself so absolutely and see where my potential and application takes me – it’s incredibly motivating. Then there are the competitions around the world, the places we see and the people we encounter.
But for me one of my most treasured things is being able to work with kids, to speak to them and do little clinics. The messages I get back from them and their parents afterwards make all the pre-dawn starts in the middle of winter more than worth it!
We wish you all the very best with everything you are doing and we’re delighted to welcome you on board at WatchFit. We know you’ll be providing some fascinating content for WatchFit readers and users.
Thank you, I’m delighted to be involved!
Connect with WatchFit Expert Guy Holland