Frankie's London 2012 blog
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My Olympic Story
What an incredible two weeks we had! Before the Olympics I thought I would be sad when it was all over but, somehow, the whole experience surpassed even my ridiculously high expectations by a mile so there’s no way I can feel sad when I look back. I have never had such an emotional time of extreme highs and lows but I have many happy memories and stories to tell...
I shall have to start from the very beginning…
We arrived in the Athlete Village from Manchester only a few hours before the Opening Ceremony was due to start so it was a manic rush checking everything through the airport style security, getting our accreditations and finding out where we would be living. The volunteers were amazing, helping us all the way, even carrying all our luggage up to our rooms!
All of Team GB were in one apartment block overlooking the Olympic Park. Our team was split into two different accommodations, eight of us in a three storey town house and five in an apartment above. My bedroom was in the town house on the first floor overlooking the Olympic Stadium - not a bad view to wake up to every morning! Our rooms were full of goodies: drink bottles, snacks, a teddy bear, swimming costumes, toiletries, bath robes, books, shrugs and lots more, all of which we could take when we left… including the Olympic-themed duvet!
We dumped our stuff and changed into our Opening Ceremony outfits which we thought were interesting, but as soon as the whole Team GB came together they looked amazing! We walked en masse from the Olympic Village to the stadium. It took almost two hours as we were moving very slowly behind the other countries, but there was music playing and kids lining the walkway asking for photographs, signatures and chanting ‘GB’ the whole way. One of my favourite memories of the whole Olympics was waiting in the tunnel to come out into the stadium. The atmosphere was electric as we could hear the crowd roaring and we were all jumping up and down with anticipation and excitement! We were supposed to stay in lines of ten to walk out, wave to the Queen and then we could take pictures and do what we liked. But because Waterpolo was right at the back, as soon as it was our turn we all just came running out! Dancing around the track, confetti falling from the sky with 80,000 people cheering for us is something I will never forget.
I won’t describe the actual ceremony because I'm sure your view from the TV was a lot better, but we had a wonderful time, dancing in the middle of the stadium and all the way back to the village. It was hard to get to sleep that night.
Life in the Athlete Village was incredible and I could have lived there forever! Everyone was so friendly and we all had something in common so it was easy to get chatting to people from all over the world. One of the great things was that everything in the Village was free! I went to the hairdresser, dentist and hygienist without paying a thing. You could see a doctor without waiting and there was no charge for any medication you might need. There was a non-alcoholic bar and vending machines and food stalls dotted around everywhere and you just took what you liked!
The best way to eat though, was in the 24h food court. It was HUGE! You couldn't see from one side to the other when you walked in. To cater for people from all over the world there was every type of food imaginable; Best of British, Mediterranean, Caribbean, European, American, Asian, and even a free Mcdonalds, which we didn’t touch till after we'd finished competing (although I was surprised by how many athletes were eating it every day!). I always had such difficulty at meals times becuase no matter how hard I looked, every time I returned to our table someone else had something better than me! The menu changed daily and throughout the day so you could never get bored of the food, and it was delicious.
The food hall was one of the best places for celeb spotting too. For the first few days we were a bit star-struck, living and socialising with some of the world's top athletes. It soon became normal though to have physio next to a premiership footballer or eat your lunch next to a top tennis player. On our second day an incredibly special guest come into the Village to visit us, The Queen. She arrived in the middle of the day so many Team GB athletes were training away from the Village. She came with Prince Andrew and Princess Anne. A few girls from our team were selected to meet the Queen formally but we all greeted the royal party in the courtyard at the back of our Team GB block. Princess Anne spoke to me personally and I tried my absolute best to put on a nice English accent (I still haven't lost my kiwi twang from growing up in New Zealand!). We also had a few other high profile visitors during the two weeks in the village: David Cameron was very friendly, chatting to us in our back yard one day. However I was gutted that I was out when Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry came into our block. Some of the girls were around and got to meet them all personally and Rosie was just in her underwear in the physio area when Kate came in and started chatting to her! Chloe was in the same situation a couple of days later when Sir Clive Woodward came in and shook her hand!
After the first few days of meeting everyone for the first time and exploring the Village we soon settled into the routine of training and competing. On match days we would have an easy training session in the morning at the competition pool and on rest days we would train twice, for an hour, in the morning and evening. There were a couple of pools dotted around London that we would be driven to on the rest days or if we were lucky we would train in the onsite swimming complex in Eton Manor. This was an incredible indoor temporary facility with three 50m swimming pools, a synchro pool, a waterpolo pool and a poolside gym! It's such a shame this was not a permanent facility as I know London is in desperate need of more 50m pools.
Our competition started on Monday 30th July against the Russians. We went into every game with the attitude that we were not going to lose. The years of training, the 6am wake up calls in the rain and snow, surviving all of Szilvester’s torrents… they were all for these two weeks. Although we were ranked 8th we believed we had enough experience and passion behind us to surprise everyone and make our Olympic dream come true. For this reason it is still painful even now, almost two months later, to think back and write about these games. This is what I meant earlier about a rollercoaster of emotions because we would go from great experiences like meeting the Queen to losing the opening game by one goal… one goal! The first week of competition continued like this... the highs of meeting our families for the first time, showing them around, discovering something new in The Village, to underperforming against the Australians and having another painfully close defeat by the Italians. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we were distracted, unfocused or not ready in any way, I think it was all just part of the whole Olympic experience.
Despite the three loses in our opening round we actually ended up going into the Quarter Final match exactly where we wanted to be, and about to face the Spanish. The Spanish had a great first round, were on form and had won their pool yet this was the team we knew 100% that we could beat. Unlike some of the other ‘bigger’ teams, they were small and fast like us, and played a similar game. We had trained against them a lot in the build-up to the Olympics and we had been evenly matched throughout which gave us the confidence we needed. We had all known for years that this one match, the quarter final at the Olympic Games, was the most important game we would ever play.
In the changing room before the game Fran, our captain, gave the a rousing speech. As we emerged to the deafening cheers of the GB home crowd there was no way we were going to come out of that pool defeated. I have heard athletes talking about taking it to another level for important contests, almost going into an 'animal like' state and this is practically how I felt. For the whole hour we were battling it out I didn't notice the crowd or the cameras or Szilvester yelling. Were all 100% committed to what we had to do so when the final whistle blew and realisation hit that we had lost in the last minute of the game, we were absolutely distraught. That the goal that we had trained towards for years and years had been shattered in just a matter of minutes was heartbreaking - the only word I can think of that describes how we all felt in the hours afterwards. There were a lot of tears shed that night.
We were given the next day off to recover both physically and emotionally which we all desperately needed. Two days later we were feeling refreshed and ready to face our old rivals, the Russians. We had lost against them by one goal three times in the last six months. Unfortunately we couldn't continue this trend, losing to them by two goals this time in another really upsetting match. We tried really hard to pick ourselves up for the last game against the Italians as this was probably the last game our team would ever play together. The Italians' experience and strength proved too strong for us though and we bowed out of the Olympics with an 11-7 loss.
After every game we would go out to the front of the pool to chat to all our supporters, I would always walk out really upset at the loss but everyone was constantly so positive. It was frustrating being congratulated on how well we had done while feeling deeply disappointed inside, but it eventually always made a smile return to my face.
That smile stayed on my face for the whole last four days of my Olympic experience. We definitely made the most of what the Village had to offer, eating as much McDonalds as we liked, getting our hair and makeup done in the salon on numerous occasions, and socialising with the other athletes who had finished competing. I don’t think I actually paid for a thing on those last few days, even when we travelled out of the Village. At night the clubs we went to let us skip the queue or cover charge, and there would be free drinks and nibbles for us everywhere we went. One of my favourite memories is going to the concert in Hyde Park the night before the Closing Ceremony. There was a special area exclusively for Team GB athletes and supporters but we (waterpolo and a few other Team GB athletes that were there) were invited on-stage and were presented to the 50,000-strong crowd. People were cheering and waving GB flags for as far as I could see! It was also Beckie’s birthday that day and the host got the whole audience to sing Happy Birthday to her! It was such a fantastic night.
The festivities continued on to the next night too. The Closing Ceremony was so much fun. All the countries walked over to the stadium as one this time and again the atmosphere was electric as we waited to run down the steps though the crowd towards the centre of the stadium. It was great to have a front row view as some of our favourite acts performed. When we got back to the Village the BOA had laid on a party in the BBQ area for all the Team GB athletes. I think most of us were still there when the sun started to rise the following morning!
Next day buses had been organised to take all the athletes back to whichever corner of GB they came from. It was quite funny seeing bleary-eyed people virtually crawling out of their rooms and onto the buses. I ended up getting a very nice chauffeur-driven BMW from the Village right to my doorstep in Islington and the Volunteer even insisted on carrying my excessive luggage into the house for me. My Olympic experience started and finished with one of the many thousands of incredible volunteers going the extra mile to help out.
The next few weeks passed very quickly. I went on holiday with my New Zealand family who had flown over to support me. We had a much deserved team holiday at a villa in Portugal and even a quick trip to Ibiza too. But we all came back together one last time, with the Paralympians also, as 'One Team GB' for what was probably the best day of my life… the Athletes Parade.
We all met on the morning of the parade at The Guildhall in central London and were given a lovely breakfast. We were then slowly taken out, sport by sport in alphabetical order, onto our floats. As Waterpolo we were on the very last float. The following two hours were absolutely unbelievable! We travelled at a walking pace and as far as the eye could see in all directions there were people cheering and waving. People had climbed rooftops, lamp posts, phone boxes, they were hanging out of windows and sitting on top of trucks, it was incredible! It was really nice to read all the messages of support on everyone’s posters, they were all yelling 'well done' and 'thank you' but I just wanted to yell 'thank you' straight back because the support we had was overwhelming!
We came to the end of the journey in front of Buckingham Palace where all of Team GB gathered on the steps together for the final display. That is another amazing memory I have, standing there looking down The Mall and for as far as I could see there were people cheering and waving GB flags. This wasn’t the end of the day for us however.
Straight afterwards we headed to a function centre close by for one last party! Again lovely food and alcohol were all put on for us and ‘One Team GB’ partied together for the last time. It was a perfect day to finish what had been an incredible Olympic experience!
And that is my story.
For the past 18 months I have been writing this blog as a record of how we've been doing and I am so glad I did. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported us throughout our journey. To all the friends and family who travelled from far away, including my grandparents who are both in their 90s and couldn’t travel to the games but are great supporters, thank you. And of course a special thank you to all the Penguin players and the Club for the continuous support over the last five years. At the moment I am enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of playing for Mataro (a club on the outskirts of Barcelona) in the Spanish League, where 'morning' training doesn't start till 1pm, but I am already looking forward to coming back to London next year and playing with the mighty Penguins again! Until then…
I MADE THE TEAM!
Sorry for the delay in posting my blog this month… since the team selection announcement we have been super busy! I am actually writing this from my hotel room in Budapest where we are on a training camp with the Hungarians and the Spanish. But let me rewind a few weeks and start from the beginning - waiting to hear the selection…
We were due to find out via email at 8am on Saturday 23rd July. At 1am that morning Chloe, Rosie and I were all still wide awake with excitement and nerves. I don't know how we managed it but we did eventually fall asleep for a few hours, then from about 7am onwards all three of us were in Chloe's bed waiting for the email. The last ten minutes were the worst; it took forever, and it didn't help that Rosie was playing nerve-racking music like 'It's The Final Countdown'.
When 8am finally did arrive anxiety quickly changed to elation as all three of us had made the team! We spent the next half hour dancing around the house in our pyjamas to 'Celebrate Good Times'. I admit that we did also have a glass of champagne to celebrate!
The hardest thing was keeping it a secret for the next two days until the official announcement at the press conference on the Monday. Both the men's and the women's teams were announced at the same time and this was the first opportunity we had to all come together as the Olympic Team. We also got to try on some of the Olympic kit for the announcement. Wearing the Team GB tracksuit for the first time was incredibly exciting to say the least!
After the press conference we had an afternoon of photos and media interviews. (As the only one in the girls' team from London, I often have to do a lot of the local media stuff for London.) The worst part was when we had to give back the Team GB tracksuit at the end of it all. Luckily for us, though, we only had two days to wait till we headed down to Loughborough for the official ‘Kitting Out’. This has to be up there with some of the best days of my life!
We travelled to Loughborough University - where the Team GB Kitting Out is based - by bus and were split into small groups upon arrival. My group first went to the 'Ceremonies' section where we tried on the Opening and Closing Ceremony outfits and the Formal Wear which is for when we visit Buckingham Palace apparently! All of this has been designed by Next and is top secret so you will have to wait to see what that looks like.
After that we headed into the 'Adidas' section for the kit we'll be wearing during the Olympics. This area was so big that we had a 'personal shopper' to take us round! They greeted us at the entrance and we were shown rows and rows of t-shirts, hoodies, jackets, trousers, shorts, shoes and more! It was split into different categories of 'Village Wear', 'Training Wear', 'Competition Wear','Podium Wear' and 'Accessories'.
Each athlete gets one or two of everything so tried everything on and our personal shopper kept a note of the different sizes, then it was all ready and waiting for us at the end! We also had one of our hands and feet scanned for inclusion in the Olympic Museum which is opening in 2014.
With such an exciting few days it's been very hard not to get too distracted by the hype of it all and I think it's a good thing that we have come away for our final training. It means we can focus solely on what we have to do over the next five weeks. Also, training against Hungary and Spain is good practice for us as they are both really strong teams and we are likely to cross over with one of them at the Olympics.
This will be my last blog now until after the Olympics when I will do a final post about the whole experience at the Games. We head into the Athlete Village on the morning of the Opening Ceremony. Apparently all of our games will be televised and will also be available on the internet. I know a few Penguins have managed to get tickets so I'm looking forward to hearing your support!
Until after the Games...
I am back in my flat in Manchester again having just had a very busy few weeks. We were in London at the beginning of this month for the London Prepares event in the Olympic pool and then we headed to Greece for the World League. We played ten games in ten days and achieved some promising results.
The London Prepares event was a very exciting experience. Each day we travelled by bus through the Olympic Park to the Water Polo Arena. The venue is incredible - walking in to the main pool hall on that first day gave us goose bumps! The facilities are amazing: the competition pool has the biggest grand stand I’ve ever seen, there is a huge warm up pool out the back and each team has their own meeting/changing room with showers and bathrooms. All the volunteers were fantastic too!
Our first game was against Australia and despite the final result I thought we did alright. It was 6-4 going into the last quarter but the Aussies were just too strong for us and pulled away to win 10-4.
It was very similar the following night against the Hungarians. We were within a few goals of them until the end when they widened the gap to win 17-10.
The third evening, though, was our night! We had a nail bitingly close match against the USA (who are favourites to win the Olympics). They went 4-0 up at the beginning but we fought back to 4-3 at half time. We hung in there until the very end when we even had an opportunity to take the lead. But their experience proved too strong for us on this occasion and they held on to win 7-6.
The result against the Americans gave us a real confidence boost, although the following week was to show us that we need to learn how to win in these close games.
Two days after the London Prepares event we travelled for 12 hours to Volos in Greece for the World League. In our group we had Russia (our first opponents at the Olympics). Greece (World Champions), and The Netherlands (Olympic Champions). Normally we would have played each team twice over two weekends but because of the Olympics the schedule was much tighter and we had to do it all in just one weekend. We played six games in sixty hours and it was hard work!
During the first round we had painfully close results, losing all three games by only one goal! In our first match against Russia we went down early but came back and were in the lead with just over a minute to go. The Russians are ruthless, however, and they equalised then scored the winner with ten seconds left. It was a similar story against both the Greeks and the Dutch - they were ahead, then we were ahead - but we never quite managed to hang on to the end. After every game we were heartbroken as we've never come so close to beating these top teams and the wins were ours for the taking.
During the next round our inexperience started to show and we couldn't quite keep up with the others. We still had very competitive matches but lost all three games by four goals this time.
So that was our ten games in ten days and we got excruciating near to beating some of the world’s top teams. It was a great learning experience for us and we now know what we need to work on over these last few weeks. It is also very encouraging because a year ago these teams were beating us by a lot... so we are improving very quickly!
The next big thing, of course, is the team selection on 25th June. We have a squad of 19 that needs to go down to 13. No matter what the result, it is going to be very difficult as we are all such good friends. We have one more chance to impress Szilvester at a training camp in Barcelona next week, after which we are in Manchester until selection...
Fingers crossed... hopefully in my next blog I will be an official London 2012 team member!
I am writing this month from my bedroom on a Saturday morning having just had a lovely lie in. I usually find it difficult to sleep in on the weekends after getting up for training all week, Chloe and Rosie are always telling me off for waking them up too early so I shall stay quiet in my room for a while while I type this up.
Since my last blog we have been not been abroad at all, just training Monday –Friday in Manchester. Szilvester (our coach) did travel to the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Italy to watch the quarter finals, the winners of whom we will play against at the Olympics. There were some upset results too. Reigning World and Olympics Champions Greece and The Netherlands did not make it through. The top four in the end were Hungary, Russia, Italy and Spain. We are all quite pleased with that as, apart from Hungary, we have had really close results with all those teams over the last 12 months. We are hoping to do the same against Hungary next week in London.
On Monday we are travelling down to the Test Event in London by bus, arriving at our hotel in the early evening. We aren't allowed to stay in the Athlete Village yet as it is all on 'lock down' for security. We are then spending the week training in the new Olympic pool before our first game against Australia on Thursday evening. I am really looking forward to this match, the last time we played them we were all exhausted and jet lagged in Canberra and now the tables have turned and I hope we can take them by surprise! We also have to get them back for breaking one of our players ribs while we were over there, so victory would be the best revenge!
We had a very interesting talk from David Faulkner this week. He is an Olympic gold medallist from ’88 with the Men's Hockey Team. He is also now the Performance Director of British Hockey. He had some great insights into what it will be like at the games and was encouraging us not to just focus on winning a medal but to think about we would want to feel after we’ve just played our last game, something I thought was really interesting but had not thought about before.
I also had my last day at work this week. Over the last 18 months I have been working part time in the Research Office at The University of Manchester. It has been the perfect little job for me as it is just across the road from the pool, I’d always run in with dripping wet hair and stinking of chlorine, and they were happy to be flexible around my training and trips abroad. It was full of really nice people too, on my last day I walked in and they had decorated my desk in an Olympic theme! My boss had also made this incredible Olympic Rings cake. I was very sad to leave!
Time now to focus solely on preparations for the next few months. We are down to London on Monday for the week and then Greece for World League on the Tuesday after that. Also, for anyone that may have looked at my empty twitter page over the last 6 months, I have decided that I am going to start tweeting pictures about these last few months leading up to and during the Olympics so have a look at that for more regular updates about how we are getting on.
See you in London
I am writing this month from my flat in Manchester on a particularly warm sunny day for mid March. We have a nice little garden at the back of our place and Rosie is lying out there now trying to get her first tan of the year. The clocks go forward this weekend which I am looking forward to; it is so much easier to get up in the mornings for training when it is light outside.
We returned from Australia a few weeks ago and flew out to Italy only a couple of days later for the next round of the Len Champions Cup. We were split into two teams to compete in this tournament and I travelled to Recco in Northern Italy which is right on the coast and so beautiful! As in Australia we played the same day we arrived and didn’t fare too well against Pro Recco, the national Italian champions, losing 20-7. A couple of days later we had adjusted to the time difference from Australia and put up a much better fight keeping them within four goals to only lose 10-6.
Since Italy we have slipped back into our normal routine of training five hours a day in Manchester. We are in the gym every morning and back to doing really hard swim sets in the pool. We have also been doing a lot of flexibility work, stretching after every session and pilates a couple of times a week. We had some fun at training yesterday experimenting with Olympic themed temporary tattoos designed and kindly donated by Lydia Leith. You can see by the photo that some of us (Lisa!) maybe had too much fun!
We have also had a very special visitor to training this week - World Cup winner and England's most capped Rugby player, Jason Leonard. He came down to the pool with a couple of his mates to watch the session and then they got in and had a go. I was impressed because they weren’t bad at all, even managing to score a couple past Rosie (although we did put the floor up so they could touch the bottom!). Afterwards we had a great Q&A session with him and it was incredible to hear his stories from all the years he represented England. His knowledge of playing under pressure and in front of big crowds was so valuable in our preparation for the Olympics.
It is all go now for us. We are in Manchester training for the next few weeks before we head down to London for the test event in early May and then World League in Greece straight after that. I also have my 25th birthday in a few days which is a bit scary as I know I'll be 25 when I compete at the Olympics so now it makes it seem so much closer!
G’day from Australia!
I am writing February's blog from the AIS in Canberra and believe it or not, it is raining outside right now! We arrived just over a week ago to beautiful sunshine and it stayed sunny all week up, right up until our one day off when it rained most of the day! That was two days ago and it hasn’t stopped raining since.
We arrived at the AIS last Monday, exhausted after 35 hours of travelling. That same afternoon we had to fight off not only the sleep but also the Aussie team because we played against them within a few hours of getting here. I was lucky to have got some reasonable sleep on the flight, but lots of the girls had only slept on the plane for couple of hours so that first game was as tough mentally as it was physically.
Since then we've quickly settled into the pattern of training every morning and playing against the Aussies each evening. As I write, we haven't yet beaten them, but we have come close and we've played some incredibly hard matches.
At the moment the Australians are one of the top-ranked teams in the world so it has been great preparation for us having such high-intensity matches every day. They are also known as one of the dirtiest teams and they have certainly lived up to their reputation - many of us are covered in scratches and bruises, and one of us is even out for a while with a broken rib! We try to give as good as we get, but they are also about twice the size of us too!
Staying at the AIS has been a real eye opener; the facilities are amazing! Within a single campus they have swimming pools, netball-, basketball- and tennis courts, football-, rugby- and athletics fields, a huge gym, rehab centre, recreational rooms, accommodation blocks and a food hall with a huge variety of delicious food. I'm particularly loving the free hot chocolate machines dotted around everywhere!
On our one day off we headed to the coast for the day. Everyone swam in the sea despite the rain and the fear of sharks. I had spent half of the journey to the beach promising people that there wouldn’t be any sharks and it was ok to swim, so I too was horrified when we spotted fins through the waves. But anxiety quickly turned to excitement when we realised they were dolphins... This was brilliant and for most of the girls it was the first time they had seen dolphins in the wild.
This day was extra special for me as my dad, who lives in New Zealand, was able to come with us to the beach. He had flown over to Oz the previous night to support some of our matches and it’s been really nice having him here because he used to watch all my matches growing up in NZ. The last time I had seen him was in China last August at the World Uni Games.
Tonight we play the last official match against Australia before heading back to the UK tomorrow. We're not in England for long, though, and next week we head to Italy for the next round of the LEN Champions Cup.
After this we are in Manchester for a while getting ready for the 'London Prepares' water polo test event in London from 3–6 May. This is a great opportunity for anyone who didn't get water polo tickets for the Olympics (and those who did!) to see the Olympic water polo venue and support us in our build-up to the games. It's a four nation tournament between GB, Hungary, USA and Australia, and we are hoping for a good home crowd. So it would be great to see everyone there! Tickets go on sale to the general public on 15 March but water polo fans can get priority booking from 13 March using the special code here:
Hopefully see you there!
Hello and Happy New Year!
I am writing this first blog of 2012 from our hotel in Eindhoven at the European Championships. We have finished the tournament having moved up in the European rankings to seventh, the highest we have ever been. We were hoping to break into the top six but we have had some very competitive matches against the top teams in the world so we have to be pleased with that.
We started the campaign off in Dusseldorf for a few days of training (fighting!) with the German team. I spent most of the time watching from the side, frustrated, while nursing an injured knee. For a while it was possible that I might be flown home instead of carrying on with the team to Eindhoven. Thankfully, the strict rehab plan prescribed by our brilliant physio (I had to ice my knee every 2 hours even through the night!) worked and the swelling went down enough for me to be taped up to play. So, by the time we checked into our gorgeous hotel in Eindhoven the knee was fine and we faced Hungary in the opening match.
Playing Hungary is always a big challenge for us and we let them slip away with some easy goals. Next up we had the Russians and their unstoppable counter attack! Despite this we managed to keep within three goals of them until the final minute when we made a a couple mistakes on attack that were instantly punished at the other end. The final score was still a respectable 15-10.
The last match in our pool was against reigning Olympic Champions, The Netherlands, and their 2000-strong home crowd. The atmosphere was incredible and it was exciting to think that soon we will be playing in front of crowds even bigger than this and everyone will be cheering for us, not against us! We were right in the game and only down by one goal (5-6) at half time, but the Olympic champs were too good for us on this occasion and the final score was 12-6.
This meant our play-off match was against our old friends, the Germans. We had beaten them in the training matches two weeks earlier but we knew it was going to be a close game, and we were right... tied 10-10 at the end of full time. Going into extra time, though, we were confident because the Germans had clearly slowed down throughout the match, while our three months of fitness training was standing us in good stead. We went ahead by three goals in the first three minutes of extra time, scoring on every attack. Germany netted one last goal but the final score was 13-11 to us, moving us up to seventh in Europe.
Tomorrow we return to Manchester for a few weeks of training before we head off to Australia for a training camp. We hosted the Australian National Team in Manchester a couple of years ago so it's now their turn to return the favour, and a good excuse for us to get out of the freezing UK winter! We will be staying at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra which has incredible facilities. The Aussies are consistently in the top four teams in the world so this will be great preparation for us!
I'm off back to the pool now to watch the Men’s semi finals. The talent of these guys is impressive!
Just a quick one this month to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! I hope you have now completed all your Xmas shopping and can relax and enjoy the holiday.
We have only a few days of training left before our week off, but Szilvester is pushing us until the very end. We have Swim Tests tomorrow night and we are doing our One Rep Max tests in the gym all week. This morning I improved my Back Squat personal best by 30kg which I was so happy about, especially considering that we all feel exhausted from the heavy training we've done recently. Now I just need to break the minute for my 100m Freestyle - I’ve come within milliseconds the last five times…
We have also been doing some great training out of the pool recently, including some fantastic Olympic awareness sessions and sports psychology sessions. The Italian men's team (current World Champions) were in Manchester a few weeks ago for a match against our GB lads. It was incredibly inspiring to watch the best players in the world in action. Our boys did really well against them too, keeping the score to a respectable 14-6.
When we return on the 2nd January our training is changing slightly. We will be focusing more on tactics and short, sharp, explosive movements in the gym and the pool. We'll actually only be back in Manchester for ten days. Then we head to Germany for a training camp where we'll spend a few days toughening ourselves up against the Germans before we face Hungary in our opening game of Euros in Eindhoven the following week.
After the Euros our preparation for the Olympics really does begin. I must say I am quite looking forward to it being 2012 - the year of the Olympics! It will be so exciting, so let the countdown begin!
Right, I'm off to bed. Only a handful of sessions left and we will have survived our three months of torture training… I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
I hope everyone has an amazing, warm, delicious Christmas and I will see you next year.
Well, we are still in the middle of what seems like a very long three months of fitness training. Szilvester is pushing us really hard in the pool with some killer swim and leg sets and he keeps telling us it is only going to get harder! It's also been difficult getting up in the mornings in the dark and cold, but at these times we really have to think about the bigger picture and who we will be facing in nine short months.
Last week we actually had a break from the normal routine to compete at the European club competition - Len Champions Cup. Unfortunately this year I wasn't allowed to play with my beloved fellow Penguins because Szilvester decided that half of the national team would play for Liverpool and half for Manchester. His master plan was successful though, as both teams qualified for the quarter finals, making it into the top eight club teams in Europe for the first time ever!
With Liverpool I travelled to Serbia where it was freezing cold and really foggy all week. (On one day there was only 5m visibility and later in the week we were lucky that our return flight wasn't cancelled since the airport had been closed for the previous three days!)
We went into the week ranked 6th out of the seven teams but we had to finish in the top four to qualify for the next round. Our first match was against the German club which, although we were up the whole time, was a nerve-wracking game as we only ended up winning by one goal, 6-5. We beat the French club, Nice, by a couple of goals and also the Serbian team easily, 12-4. These results were enough to put us through to the quarter finals where we will play in two 'home and away' matches against the number one ranked team from the other side of the draw, Pro Recco, from Italy. These matches aren't until March next year.
The next big thing for us, of course, is the Europeans in the Netherlands in January. The draw was announced a couple of weeks ago and on our side of the pool we have Russia, Hungary and the Netherlands... a very hard draw! Our goal is to make the top six which, given the draw, definitely makes it a harder challenge. In this tournament the bottom team from each side of the pool will go straight through to the 7th-8th play off, unlike at the Olympics where even if you are 4th in your pool you will still play in a quarter final but against the 1st ranked team from the other side of the pool. Still, if we want to beat these countries later in the year then we need to be having these closely competitive matches with them in January!
I hope everyone’s Christmas shopping is going smoothly. Since we only have a week off training for Xmas I won’t be going back to New Zealand this year which gets me out of buying lots of pressies! I am quite looking forward to the break though, not least because it will be our last holiday until after the Olympics.
See you soon
This month I am writing to you from my flat in Manchester again, on a wet weekend morning. My body is exhausted as we're in the middle of three months of serious base fitness training. Not only are we really pushing ourselves in the pool (swimming with T-shirts on to create extra drag!), but in the gym we're lifting heavier weights than ever before. Next week we are doing our 'One Rep Max' in which we keep increasing the weight by 2.5kgs until we physically can’t lift anymore. We've also just started a different type of dry land training... wrestling! Champion wrestler, Dean Amasinger, is teaching us some of the basics such as getting out of different holds and moving your opponent around. Because such a big part of water polo is fighting with your opponent, we will definitely be able to transfer our new skills to the pool and I have no doubt they will come in handy when we face some of our bigger rivals from eastern Europe.
A few weeks ago some of the girls headed off to Israel to compete in our last Euro Qualifier match (although we have already qualified, we still had to compete in this last game). Sly, our coach, used the opportunity to take some of the younger girls in the squad which meant that Chloe, Rosie and I didn't travel. It was the first GB trip in seven years that Rosie hadn’t been on, but the team did brilliantly with an easy win, 21-3.
Because I didn't go to Israel I had an unexpected free weekend, so I headed down to Loughborough to watch the Penguin men take on Lancaster in a cracker of a game. Aside from two misconducts, one brutality and about 30 kick-outs, this nail biting match saw the teams battling goal-for-goal until Penguin pulled away in the last minute to win 12-10. Victory ensure Penguin's place in the Super 5s which I think annoyed the Lancaster lads even more!
On a completely different note we found out last night that USA have secured their place at next year's Olympic Games. They beat Canada in the final at the Pan American Games, 19-18, and that was just the penalty shoot out! (The final score was 27-26.) Canada will have one more chance to qualify at the Olympic Qualification Tournament early next year.
Before I sign-off, I want to tell you about the short video that Chloe and I have put together from our trip to the World Uni Games in China earlier this year. Click on the link below, and relive the experience with us:
See you soon
Hello, I’m writing this month’s blog from our living room in Manchester; Chloe and Rosie are dozing on the couch beside me, and we’re exhausted after a couple of weeks of full-on training and competition. Yesterday we beat Ukraine giving us qulaification for the Europeans for the first time in 15 years. And last weekend we finished third in the Four Nation Tournament held here in Manchester.
It all started 12 days ago when Canada arrived for a few days of pre-tournament ‘friendly’ training matches... but these games didn’t end up being very friendly at all! To mention just a few incidents – Fee was elbowed in the head and had to go to hospital with a concussion, Alex got two back eyes from a couple of punches and Rachel was winded by a kick to her throat. I won’t mention what injuries the Canadians got out with!
So, we were somewhat battered and bruised when we headed into our first match of the Four Nations Tournament last Friday against China, and I think it showed. We started out strongly, scoring a few nice goals and stopping their counter attack numerous times. But they pulled away in the second half and the final score was 14-5. We then had Germany who we beat quite easily 18-14. This was a great confidence boost as we've previously really struggled against the German team. After just a few hours rest we faced our nemesis of the week, Canada. It took us a while to switch into the match and we went down early, despite a few nice goals. The Canadians dominated and the final score was 11-4. The next morning we faced Germany again in the playoff and, although we only won by one goal, we were leading quite confidently the entire match.
After such a busy weekend we were allowed one day off before returning to training in preparation for the Euro Qualifier against Ukraine the following Saturday. Because we had beaten Ukraine earlier in the year, we knew that a win would give us automatic qualification for the Euros in January. We were actually really nervous before the game, which we played in front of a packed crowd at the Aquatics Centre here in Manchester. Like us, the Ukrainians came out fighting and we were only up by one goal at the end of the first quarter. We went on to dominate though; they couldn't keep up with the our speed and fitness and we capitalised by scoring a lot of counter attack goals. The final score was 21-8 which meant we qualified for Euros and achieved our team goal for this year! Even our ‘hard to crack’ Hungarian coach broke into a smile.
Now the hard work really does begin. Over the next three months we are staying mainly in Manchester to work on our base training for next year. This means swimming a lot of miles and lifting very heavy weights. Szilvester (our coach) says it doesn’t matter how tired or sore we are, we just have to train through it!
We do have one more Euro Qualifier match in Israel that we have to complete even though we have already qualified. We beat Israel by 25 goals in January so it should be an easy match... although we do like to make it difficult for ourselves sometimes!
That match is in a few weeks time so I’ll let you know how we get on in my next blog.
See you soon
Ni hao, from China!
I am currently writing to you from my room in the athlete village at the 26th World Universiade Games in Shenzhen, China. I've had the most amazing few weeks despite the extreme heat and some frustratingly close loses in the water! We have finished in 7th position, just below our tournament goal of making the top six.
We arrived in the village three weeks ago, very tired and hot. The volunteers were amazing and they ushered us through security and to our rooms. There are over 250,000 volunteers (apparently over 30,000,000 people applied!) -- that's more than 20 per athlete and you can’t walk 20m without someone checking if you’re ok or asking to take a photo with you. The security to get in and out of the athlete village is quite extreme. Everyone must have their photo accreditation on them and You put all your belongings through an x-ray machine, walk through a metal detector and get scanned. You do this every time you go in and out!
The first few days here were spent training and getting over our jet lag. We played a couple of friendlies against Australia and Russia and won both.
Our first official match of the tournament was against Canada which ended as a draw, 8-8. Our next pool matches were against China where we had a really competitive game, then Italy where we ended up losing in the last minute, 10-9. This was heartbreaking as we were up by 3 goals at half time and had beaten this team earlier in the year.
After the Italy game I think it was challenging for all of us to keep our heads up, but we went into the quarter finals against USA the next day highly determined to win. We started out strongly, holding the lead 5-3 at the end of the first quarter. But we couldn’t quite hold them off so despite a really good match, they won 11-8. This put us out of medal contention and we were devastated! After losing to Australia the next day we went on to take 7th place easily by beating France, 8-4, and then Mexico, 15-3.
In a way I think coming 7th may have more of a positive effect on the team in the long run than if we had won a medal. Now we all know how much hard work we need to put in over the coming months and we have made a pact to remember how much it hurts to lose.
Despite underperforming it has still been an incredible trip and we have learnt so much about what it will be like next year in London.
The food court in the athlete village is unbelievable. Imagine a food court in a shopping centre except everything is free, even McDonalds (although we were not allowed this!). People-watching here is an eye-opener too… you are surrounded by giant basketballers and weightlifters eating ten plates of food alongside 5ft gymnasts who eat nothing!
We had a couple of crazy experiences with the Chinese public. For example, we went out to watch the basketball one day and as soon as one of us said yes to a photo we literally had thousands of people swarming around us and asking for photos. Some even handed us their babies to have a picture with! We ended up having to get escorted out of the crowd!
What's next? We now have a week’s holiday before returning to Manchester. AFter that we only have a couple of weeks training before Germany, Canada and China arrive for an invitational tournament. Then it's our next Euro Qualifier match against Ukraine at the end of September. If we win we will have qualified for Europeans in January. Come up and support us -- it will be one of our last home matches before the Olympics.
See you there
Hello, I’m writing this month's blog from my flat in Manchester on a very wet and cold July day , in complete contrast to the places we have been competing in recently...
In late June we spent a week training and playing against the Italian national squad in a town called Avezanno. We flew into Rome where we hopped onto a bus with the Italians and drove for a couple of hours way up into the mountains; it was really beautiful and very hot! We were there for five days of serious training spending a minimum of five hours a day in the pool -- 2-3 hours in the morning and the same in the evening -- plus a gym session. Although it was well above 30 degrees every day we spent most of the week indoors (the pool was indoors), but we were allowed an hour out in the sun on the last evening.
All this training was in preparation for our next Euro Qualifier match against Spain in Bilbao the following weekend. This was going to be the fourth time we'd played Spain in the last couple of months and each time previously we had just narrowly been defeated. In Bilbao, unfortunately, the trend continued with score of 10-6. This was really frustrating because we were even throughout most of the match apart from a couple of minutes in the last quarter when it fell apart for us and Spain capitalised by scoring a few quick goals which lead them to victory.
After the match we remained in Bilbao for a couple of days for a training camp against the Spaniards. This ended up getting very aggressive -- in one session a Spanish player even threw a few above-the-water punches before she was removed from the pool! A number of us girls came home covered in scratches and bruises.
Next on our schedule is the University World Games in Shenzhen, China, in August. We are participating because it's a similar event to the Olympics so we will use the experience to practise our routine for next year. Like the Olympics it is a huge multi-sport event where we'll be staying in the athlete village, eating in the athlete food court and so on. We'll only be competing every second day which means the tournament will last over two weeks, so we will use the 'rest' days to train and keep our fitness up for the last couple of matches. I'm particularly excited about this trip because my dad is flying over from New Zealand to watch. We are going to stay on for a few days afterwards, with my brother, who is also flying over from London to support the team.
So, this time next month I will be in China, half way through the tournament! I will write from over there to update you on the scores, say how hot and sticky it is and tell you about all the crazy food we’ve tried. I have seen a few photos already of the athlete accommodation and the toilets are on the balconies! Should be fun!
Until then, Ciao, Francesca.
Hello, since my last blog I have been away competing at World League in Barcelona and Athens. I wrote last time that we wanted to use World League to close the gap between ourselves and some of the top teams in the world and I think we definitely achieved that.
Our first game in Barcelona was a historic victory - beating 2010 European silver medallists, Greece, for the first time ever! We did it in style too, coming back from 6-9 down at the end of the third quarter, to win 10-9. Then we had a couple of really close matches against Hungary and Spain. In both games it was just one quarter that let us down. Against Hungary we lost the first quarter 6-1 but went on to have an even game with a final score of 14-9. It was the same against Spain where we were 11-11 at the end of the third quarter but ended up losing the match 16-11. On paper both those results were really good, but at the time we felt very disappointed and frustrated.
After Barcelona we returned to Manchester for three days of training before flying out to 30 degrees C (and an outdoor pool) in Athens for the second round of World League. It's incredible how keen we all are to stay in longer when we are training outdoors, especially in Greece; it was beautiful!
We were feeling really positive from the previous weekend's results and we were so determined to beat Spain in our first match (our third time playing them within a month). Although we fought hard to the end this time, we couldn’t quite do it, losing 11-8. Still, it was our best result against Spain ever. The next day we had a really close fight against Greece but home team advantage paid off and they pipped us to victory this time with a final score of 10-8.
After World League we had a much deserved week off training. I worked for the first couple of days then headed off to Nice for a few days of tanning! Last year we had a one month summer holiday in July but Szilvester has decided that it’s now too close to the Olympics for us to take that much time off in one go so instead we are having four separate rest weeks throughout the year.
After the relaxation of Nice it was soon back to the reality of rainy Manchester for training. However, next week we are off to Rome for a training camp with the Italian National team. This is in preparation for our next Euro Qualifier match against Spain in Spain at the end of this month. We currently sit second on the Euro Qualifier table behind Spain so it would be nice to have our first win against them and knock them off the top spot, especially on their home turf!
I’ll let you know how we’ve got on next time.
Hello, this third blog I am writing from my flat in Manchester which I share with team mates Chloe (right winger) and Rosie (the goalie).
We have just been narrowly beaten by Spain in our third Euro Qualifier match. The final score was 14-9 but I think a 2-3 goal score difference would have reflected the game better. We started out strong but Spain capitalised on our silly mistakes and we were playing 'catch-up' the rest of the game. We must finish in the top two to qualify for Europeans in January and despite this defeat, we are still on target for achieving this.
Earlier in the month the squad travelled down to London for our first tour of the Olympic Park. We left Manchester at 5am on a bus and arrived at the British Olympic Association offices just in time for brunch. Before heading to the Olympic Park we had a couple of very interesting Olympic Awareness talks about the park and the athlete village, including an introduction to the athlete food court, which I have to tell you about... the food court will be in a large warehouse near the athlete apartments and will be big enough to cater for thousands of people 24 hours a day! Athletes from all over the world will eat there so it has to cater for everyone. There will be every type of food imaginable available (including McDonalds!) and fridges lined with every kind of drink, all for free! We were told all this because, as you can imagine, there have been problems in the past with first-time Olympic athletes - which all of us will be - not eating appropriately then not performing at their best. We have been told that in the two days at the end of the Olympics when we have finished competing, we can eat as much free McDonalds as we like, but not until then!
Going into the Olympic park itself was incredibly exciting, to see how it is all developing. We drove around the whole site visiting the stadium, velodrome, media centre, basketball arena, athlete village (to name just a few!) and finally, the swimming pool. I think the aquatic centre has the best position in the park as it will be the first venue people will view when they walk in from the main gates. Seeing all this in person was very inspiring and I can’t wait 'til our next visit later in the year when a lot more of the construction will be complete.
(If you are interested, the tour of the park is open to the public on weekends and is free; you just have to register online beforehand.)
In another part of our 'Out of the Pool' programme this month we had arguably the best waterpolo coach in the world come and talk to us about his Olympic experiences. Dénes Kemény has coached the Hungarian Men's Team for the last 15 years, leading them to victory in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. He shared lots of advice and stories including this one from the Sydney Olympics... Despite being favourites to win Hungary finished third in their pool, having lost two out of three matches. Dénes felt that his men were not playing together as a team so he sent them to the pub - without any management - to sort things out for themselves. After that the squad went on to win every game, including the gold medal match against Russia!
This Thursday we are off to Barcelona for the first round of World League. In our pool we face Spain, Greece and Hungary. We will play each team once over the weekend before flying on to Athens for the second round next weekend. We must come in the top two in our pool to proceed further. All three opposing teams are very strong but we are hoping to use these matches to close the gap between ourselves and the top teams in the world. Hopefully we'll come away with a couple of wins!
I'll let you know how we've got on next time,
Hello, again! I'm writing to you from my hotel room in Budapest on a Friday morning. We arrived last night to play our last Hungarian National League matches against B.V.S.C. We'll play them twice over the weekend in a best-of-three series; if we don't win both matches we'll have to come back another time for the deciding game. Previously in the league we've had two wins and a draw against this side so we're hoping we can finish them off this weekend!
On returning from my visits to Hungary people often ask how my 'holiday' was... hmm, these trips are anything but glamorous. A normal day consists of breakfast in the hotel cafe then back to our rooms for rest before an hour of training in the pool. Then it's lunch - usually a pasta dish or some chicken and rice - and back to our rooms for the afternoon where we usually sleep or watch DVDs (it's a hard life!). We meet a couple of hours before the game for a team talk, then we warm up and go into battle. Afterwards we head straight back to the hotel for tea and then bed. From this you'll gather that we spend a lot of time in our rooms so it's always a bonus if the hotel is nice and your roommate doesn't talk in their sleep!
On our last trip to Hungary we had a surprise 'out of the pool' session with three times Olympic gold medallist, Gergerly Kiss. He's been in the Hungarian national men's water polo team since he was 22 when he won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Since then he's gone on to win gold in Athens and Beijing. It was really interesting to hear his stories and get his advice as he too is in training for London 2012, where he'll be seeking his fourth consecutive gold.
Since my last blog we've progressed a step closer to qualifying for the Europeans by beating Ukraine the 26th March. We flew out to Budapest on the Sunday before the match for preparatory training against the Hungarian national squad. Unfortunately I woke up next day with a fever and 'flu symptoms and had to spend the next few days in bed. So, on the Thursday when the rest of the girls flew on to Kiev to face Ukraine, I was n a plane back to Manchester! In the Ukraine the girls dominated from early on and won convincingly 11-7, even with an 8 hour bus journey to the pool each way!
Our next match in the European qualification series is on the 30th April in Manchester against Spain. This will be a tough game because Spain are previous European silver medallists. My brother has organised a group of our friends (including some Penguins) to come up from London to support us. Fingers crossed we get a sell out crowd to carry us to a sneaky victory.
It was a great night at the Penguin 90th Anniversary Dinner last Saturday. We had a delicious meal followed by lots of dancing, including some impressive break dancing from Marta and Magda! Congrats to all the team winners especially Lily who won Athlete of the Year. A massive thank you to those who organised the night, it was a huge success! (See some of the photos here).
Hopefully I'll see you in Manchester on the 30th to help us sink the Spanish Armada!
Note from the editor: see Francesca pictured in the May 2011 issue of Swimming Times.
I'm writing this first blog in Budapest, on our team bus which is navigating its way round the crazy Friday night traffic. We're on our way to a city called Eger to play two matches over the weekend against the local side in the Hungarian National League. Since last October we have been travelling twice a month to play in this league and Hungary has become my second home, although I am embarrassed to say my Hungarian language skills are still appalling despite having insider help from Hungarian Penguins Meli and Nuci.
We approached the Hungarian National League as a way to play more frequent tough matches against some of the best players in the world. I think we've improved a lot over the last 6 months and going into this weekend we are ranked fourth in the league which was our initial aim, to stay in the top four.
Back in Manchester where all the squad live and train Sylvester, our coach, puts us through a strenuous weekly training programme. We are in the pool for four hours a day, two hours in the morning and two in the evening. We also do an hour of weights four times a week. I usually have trouble walking by Wednesday thanks to our gym coach's obsession with 'over head squats', and come the end of the week most girls have difficulty brushing their hair due to sore muscles. We get the weekends off to relax and recover and I often spend the time in London visiting friends and family.
We also do a couple of 'out of the pool' sessions a week, with a sports psychologist, undergoing media training, doing video analysis or attending Olympic awareness talks. These help prepare us for London 2012. Last week's session was sprung upon us as a surprise practice press conference in which we were put on the spot by really difficult questions. It was filmed so we could watch ourselves back - this was the worst bit! Hopefully I won't ever have to experience such a tough interview session in real life.
As well as training around 25 hours a week, I work part time just across the road from the pool at Manchester University. It's a great little job as they are happy to be flexible around my training and travelling. Everyone in the office is used to me rushing in in the mornings with dripping wet hair or returning from a trip covered in scratches or with a black eye. They are very supportive.
Over the next few months I'll be updating you with how we are going in our our big aim for this year - qualification for the Europeans in January 2012. We face Spain, Ukraine and Israel in our pool and will play each team twice (home and away) in the next six months. The top two teams will qualify. We had a great start to our campaign, beating Israel 26-1 in Loughborough on 29th January. Thank you to all the Penguin supporters who came to cheer me on! Our next match is against Ukraine in Ukraine at the end of this month. You can follow the results from this match and our Hungarian National League matches on the British Swimming website.
I must admit though, the thing I'm most looking forward to in the coming weeks is the Penguin 90th Anniversary Dinner on 2nd April! Luckily it doesn't clash with any trips abroad so I'll be down in London with my party shoes on, and I'm so looking forward to seeing everyone there.