Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Passion Comes From Within You

Shelley Taylor-Smith, the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee Secretary General, and founder of Champion Mindset, was recently featured at Urbanboheme, a women's portal which acts as an intermediary connecting women to their business or lifestyle needs.

Shelley gives great motivational talks that incorporate her open water swimming experiences. An excerpt below is from her talk, "Your Birthright to Achieve". In her own words, Shelley says...

October 28, 2005. The email from the FINA headquarters (the international governing body for swimming disciplines) in Switzerland read: “Lausanne (SUI), October 27, 2005 – FINA has the great pleasure to announce that the IOC Executive Board today decided to include in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games competition programme the 10km event for men and women in marathon swimming.”

It was one of those moments where time stood still -- with me in it. The subject header sent at 1.38am Sydney time read: “10km event in Open Water Swimming at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games”. I had to re-read it. I had had a restless night’s sleep knowing the IOC announcement -- a Yes in our favour or a Nay against us -- was happening as I tossed. I had requested FINA to call me. I did not care if they woke me. They know me pretty well by now. The crazy Aussie nicknamed ‘Nuts’ in the FINA office due to my unwavering commitment to marathon swimming.

I fell to my knees in tears of joy. Those magic moments that I refer to as ‘Gold Medal Moments’ that rise within you, where the hairs on your arms stand on end, as you remember (and I do remember often) …. Now … still. They are powerful.

It’s 6 am. I scream out with joy “we’re going to Beijing”. I am in shock. It can’t be that easy. Who could I share this joy with at this time of morning? I called the head coach of Swimming Australia, Alan Thompson.

That is all I said, all day. I called Alan Jones after Alan. “Do you want the scoop?” I said to the producer of the 2GB Alan Jones Breakfast show. I was at the Manly Swimming pool now and everybody thought I was coming out of retirement as I screamed out “We’re going to Beijing!”

This was the day thousands of marathon swimmers worldwide had been waiting for with anticipated breath. For many they had not held their breath. They had given up hope. Not me.

The Olympic 10km marathon swim event has the unique distinction of being both the oldest and newest of Olympic Aquatic disciplines. The modern-day Olympics utilised Open Water venues for their first three Olympiads; Athens 1896, Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904. Finally, after 104 years, open water swimming will return to the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008.

Over the past decade the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee (TOWSC) developed a plan with great diligence to ensure that the IOC was presented with an aquatic event that would fit the Olympic ideal and represent the high quality of aquatic excellence that FINA is internationally accredited with.

The 10km distance was decided on because of its duration being similar to both the traditional running marathon and the newer Olympic triathlon. The venue used by rowing was proposed as one that would be useful in accommodating both spectators and television.

There are various terms for our sport since we have developed so fast. It has changed from long distance swimming to open water swimming to what it is now recognised as marathon swimming.

Marathon swimming could easily be considered the fastest growing discipline within the FINA family. In the 6th FINA World Championships in 1991 in Perth, Western Australia, Open Water Swimming was introduced with a 25km swim. It was here that I became the Inaugural FINA Women’s 25km World Champion winning gold for Australia.

The 7th FINA World Swimming Championships in Rome in 1994 was where the 25km was again contested. The 8th FINA World Swimming Championships returned to the favourite city of Perth, Western Australia in 1998 where the 5km event and the introduction of team awards were introduced.

Then in the year 2000, the 10km event was a part of the first FINA World Championship event dedicated exclusively to Open Water Swimming. Since that time FINA has hosted an annual World Championships and the 10km distance quickly became one of the most popular events.

‘The Dream’ appeared to happen so easily. Looking back now since that ‘gold medal moment’ two years ago, everything was in place and the timing was perfect. It began with a meeting in Hong Kong in September 2005 when the FINA Executive Director advised that the IOC were planning to discuss the addition of the 10km men’s and women’s events during their October 2005 program meetings.

The most encouraging news here is that the IOC had called FINA. Cornel Marculescu, Executive Director of FINA and the one who brought us this news, could be described as ‘cautiously optimistic’ that this all may happen for Beijing 2008.

With those two words I was dumbfounded. It can’t be that easy I thought. Cornel is never the type of person who would set us up in false hope. I remember I had Daniel Kowalski, Australian Swimming Olympian and the FINA Athletes Representative seated next to me. I was typing the minutes as Cornel informed us and as I looked at Daniel, he was grinning like me, from ear to ear. I was quietly confident. The TOWSC (FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee) members celebrated that evening in Hong Kong. I had a gut feeling. We all felt that history was in the making.

We (the TOWSC Commission of which I am Honorary Secretary) had hosted the IOC Program Committee members onboard our boat at the FINA World Swimming Championships in July 2005. I clearly remember explaining our sport as quickly as possible and as passionately as possible without jamming too much stuff down their throats. I did not want to appear desperate, regardless of how I was feeling inside, having them leave choking on our sport.

That same day in Hong Kong we created a sub-committee and prepared the Olympic selection proposal. Mr. Marculescu was very pleased with our work on this and sent it onto the IOC that same week. We had several members of the 15-member IOC Executive Board championing our efforts, including Mr. Rogge himself. As it was explained to us, the Olympic television contract commitment was originally structured to include baseball and softball, both now dropped from the program. The IOC was looking to simply add these two swimming events with little or no cost to help fulfil that obligation. The plan to use the Olympic rowing venue and the great television ratings of FINA Swimming in Athens have been major selling points.

Yes we were in the right place at the right time. It is all about timing.

Since the IOC announcement in 2005, we have seen an amazing growth in our sport.
The FINA TOWSC has had to quickly adapt with rule changes to promote the sport. For our sport to be seen as ‘media friendly’, we have introduced the dive start from a floating pontoon. This is the opportunity for spectators, whether at the event or at home, to get up close and personal with our marathon swimming athletes. There has been a 1000 per cent increase in Officials and Referees accreditations. FINA has hosted its inaugural Open Water Swimming Seminar in 2006.

From the pool to the board.

My introduction to marathon swimming began in 1983 as a member of the ‘Lady Razorback Swim Team’ whilst studying at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA. I dived into professional marathon swimming in 1985 and retired as 7-time World Marathon Swimming Champion in 1998. Whilst competing, I served as the FINA Athletes representative and Chairman of the committee from 1992 to 2000. Since 2000, I have served as Honorary Secretary for marathon swimming as a member of the

My role as Honorary Secretary includes administering the sport internationally. Most important matters of late have included rule changes, staging the Open Water Swimming seminar, finalising the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games qualifying selection process, supporting national federations and their athletes’ concerns, training officials and referees in China whilst focusing on our main objective to stage the best ever competition in Beijing.

It reminds me of when Women’s Water Polo was accepted into the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon. The same has been experienced in our sport. Even Grant Hackett is talking about having a go at in the 10km marathon swim in Beijing.

Fast forward to August 2007 and it’s the TOWSC Commission’s first official visit to Beijing to meet with the IOC, BOCOG (Beijing Olympic Committee Olympic Games) and the ICF (International Canoe Federation). Arriving into Beijing you can sense the excitement. There is construction going 24/7. As we head to the hotel our view is saturated by construction cranes

The venue for the Olympic 10km Marathon Swim is the rowing basin at Rowing-Canoe-Marathon Swim Park. A state of the art venue does not do it justice. The water quality is outstanding. The facilities are excellent for athletes, spectators, coaches and federations. It is a 40 minute drive from Beijing to the venue. FINA is co-sharing the facility with two other sports – Rowing and Canoeing.

Staging the best ever competition was now satisfied by expecting the venue.
The meeting agenda highlighted key issues including the schedule of events and meetings, sharing facilities, the course including start and finish, feeding stations, the timing system and availability for on-course training where swimmers familarise themselves with their racing environment.

The meeting was successful. Our outcomes were achieved. All parties agreed this will be the most spectacular Games in the history of the Olympic Games. There is one thing the Chinese do well – they deliver on their promise.

The 10km Marathon swim for women and men will be staged at 9am on August 20 and 21, 2007. I’ll be ‘ringside’ with my fellow TOWSC members and BOCOG delivering my promise for the talented 25 men and 25 women competing in the inaugural 10km Marathon Swim Olympic Event: ‘to enjoy their Olympic experience’.

Go for gold…’s your birthright to achieve!

To see Shelley on video, check out the following on YouTube:

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