I thought the end of another year might be a fun time to look at what a successful swimming career involves. I happen to be a bit of a fanatic when it comes to statistics. Stored away on this computer are training schedules that date back to 1990. The distances and speeds swum by a dozen national, or USA state champions, are all here somewhere. Alison’s career was before the days of computers. Her running data is stored in a blue folder and in old-fashioned things called books. The blue folder is covered in stickers from track meets in Berlin (where Alison set the NZ record for 1000 metres), the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games, the 1979 World Cup in Montreal, a 1981 Great Britain national team meet in Norway, the Zurich International and the French Athletic Federation. Inside you will find letters from Coach Arch Jelley, Maria Hartman (the ex-boss of UK women’s athletics), Andy Norman (once boss of the athletic world, or so it seemed) and priceless sponsorship letters from Adidas.    

But enough of that, back to swimming. So, what is involved in the career of an international swimmer? A lot of hard work. Yes, we all know that. But what does “a lot of hard work” mean? Well, the information I have suggests the following. These are all actual numbers taken from the records of real swimmers who competed for their country.

In an 11-year career from joining a club’s junior squad at 11 or 12 years of age to retiring at 22 or 23, he or she will swim a total of 27,548 kilometres. That’s a swim from Auckland to London via Singapore, across the Atlantic and the United States to Los Angeles. It is also 1.1 million lengths of a 25m pool and about 13.2 million freestyle arm strokes. No wonder swimmers have strong shoulders and know the number of tiles on the bottom of their pool.

The average distance swum per week will vary between 23.86 kilometres in the early years to 66.47 kilometres a week as an international swimmer. Over their 11-year career they will average 53.28 kilometres a week, or 5.92 kilometres per training session. Their longest individual training session will be 10.1 kilometres and their shortest 1.0 kilometre.

But swimming does not only involve training. There are also races to be swum. I tend to set a low number of races. However, in an 11-year career an international swimmer will swim 633 races. Of the 633 races swum 252 (40%) will be in a personal best time. The most races I have set in a year is 198 and the lowest is 16. I swear some coaches are close to 633 races per swimmer by the end of a good weekend at the Hawkes Bay – Poverty Bay Championships. I remember one of my swimmers being criticised by an official for not swimming enough races. At the next provincial championships, I entered the swimmer in every race, in every stroke and every distance. With the exception of one, I think it was the 200 fly, she won them all.

In addition to swimming, top swimmers spend time in the gym. In an 11-year career an international swimmer will do weights 1,522 times, an average of 2.94 gym sessions per week. In that time, they will lift 7,914 tonnes, do 858,500 sit-ups, 51,480 full push-ups and 13,728 chin-ups. 7,914 tonnes, by the way, is 20 A380 aircraft or 2 African elephants a week.

And finally, an 11-year career is a 5.30am alarm about 4,015 times. Has it been worth it? Without question, right down to the last ring. You can’t measure the early morning smell of chlorine. But when you can, I will make sure to tell you about it.  

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