Becoming an Olympian is something special. There’s roughly a 500,000/1 chance of making it to the Olympics as a competitor, and in The Willmott household there are 2!
I remember qualifying for my first Olympic Games like it was yesterday. It was day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic trials and most of my family were in the stands to watch me compete. I had to swim a time of 4.40.16 and be a top 2 finisher to make the cut. I touched second in a time of 4.37.48 securing my place on the team. I turned around looked for my parents and punched the sky. I was going to the Olympics following in my dad’s footsteps.
I was the 58th competitor to qualify for Team GB across all the sports and I couldn’t wait to represent my country!
Kitting Out Day
Getting your Olympic kit is like Christmas coming early! As a kid I dreamed of wearing the colours of the union jack and representing my country. Trying it on never gets old – it’s very special!
At ‘kitting out’, Team GB create their own clothes shop where you get to try on each item of clothing, check it’s the right size, and move onto the next - you can even try socks on!
Collecting my kit for Rio was pretty fun. They had a photo booth, a load of games set up and the packing station was set up like an ALDI supermarket till. Your kit travelled along the belt, a member of the team checked it off a list, and then packed it into your suitcases to take home – albeit a little slower and with less pressure than actually shopping at ALDI!
At the Games
I finished 11th at my first Olympics. It was my fastest heat swim at the time, and the best experience I could have imagined. I walked out for my race and stood behind the block - I was in lane 3. Hannah Miley was coming down the last length of the freestyle and the crowd really got behind her; it gave me goosebumps. The atmosphere was electric as my name flashed up on the scoreboard before the start of my heat. 8 years later and I still haven’t heard a crowd as loud. 17,000 British supporters were cheering for ME before I was about to dive in and my adrenaline was through the roof! I went off like a rocket down the first length and completely miss-paced the 100m butterfly, but in that moment I didn’t care.
I was finally experiencing my dream come true!
My experience was very similar, even in 1984, and although it was 36 years ago it’s something I’ll never forget.
The Olympic trials were at Coventry pool, and my parents were also there watching. I swam quite a few events at the trails and swam PB’s in pretty much everything, but I ended up qualifying for the Olympics in the 400IM and 1500 freestyle.
The 400IM was my main event, and I remember turning 7th at the 200m mark. Steven Poulter, who ended up winning the race, was just behind me in 8th. We both had a cracking breaststroke leg and we moved up to 1st and 2nd position as we battled down the last 100m freestyle. I was pipped at the wall by 0.3 of second, swimming under the B standard and in doing so booking my ticket to LA!
Qualifying for the 1500m was a little different. I wasn’t seeded top 8 so I didn’t make the straight final for the event. I swam in the penultimate heat the day before. Like usual for the distance events, there was no one in the stands and almost all swimmers had gone home, however there were a few coaches still watching. I swam a great race and was way ahead of the rest of the field. After 1000m some of the coaches started waving me on. By this point it was just me against the clock. I narrowly missed the automatic qualifying time but I had posted the second fastest time overall, even after the final had been swum. As I had already qualified in the IM I was given the second slot for the 1500 on day 8 of the games.
I spent a week in Crystal Palace on a prep camp with the team and on the way home we had to collect our kit. Just like Aimee, the kit was laid out on tables in a big hall, and we had to try on and select the items that fit. It probably wasn’t as exciting as it is now, but picking up the kit was a very proud day for me. It made the experience feel very real. Our formal wear was supplied by a British tailoring company, so we had to pop to our local shop and have our measurements taken before the uniform arrived in the post.
The 1984 Olympics
We were away for almost 6 weeks as team. We spent 3 weeks in San Diego before heading into the village in LA. The entire experience was unforgettable but I was a little disappointed with my swims. In the 400IM there was an American in my heat so, unlike Aimee, there were 10,000 American fans shouting ‘USA, USA, USA’ and I found it a bit intimidating. I made what was called a B final at the time, and although I swam a bit faster it still wasn’t as quick as my times at trials.
During my time in America the people were so friendly, and after the swimming finished we spent a lot of time at the beach, chatting to locals. They even invited us into their homes for celebrations and it was nice to enjoying some time off with the rest of the swimmers.
I didn’t attend the opening ceremony like most swimmers, as my race was on day 1, but the closing ceremony was awesome. It was at the Coliseum and Lionel Richie played a set. I was 12 feet from the front and it was the perfect way to top of the games!
Aimee & Stuart
Once an Olympian, always an Olympian