Michael Jamieson: ‘Swimming has a problem. Micro-dosing is a huge issue’

first_img‘It’s a challenge,” Michael Jamieson says with a little smile, “but I want to try and prove you can be successful in sport and be happy. The past 18 months have been crazy for British sport with all these scandals of bullying and lack of care. I feel like we’ve heard enough stories now. Let’s get some solutions in place.”Jamieson is a retired Olympic swimmer, who won a memorable silver medal at London 2012, and he knows what it is to be consumed and almost ruined by sport. He pushed himself so hard in training he suffered heart problems and, when he retired last year, he spoke movingly of how he had struggled with depression as an elite athlete. Michael Jamieson on his way to a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images Read more Mark Foster: ‘I tiptoed around in the shadows for so long, but now is the time to come out’ The difficult part is trying to tell any young athlete: ‘You need a plan outside sport’ Drugs in sport Read more “My opinion is it’s still a huge issue today. Micro-dosing is virtually untraceable. The natural levels of testosterone have parameters so wide you can micro-dose slightly and have a huge benefit. Within 24 hours it’s gone but you benefit for three months. Undoubtedly swimming has a problem. I have no idea how you get on top of it.“I think the way Fina have conducted themselves the last couple of years is an absolute disgrace. To see the executive director of Fina embracing Sun Yang on the poolside at the Rio Olympics? How do you tackle that?”Sun, the Chinese swimmer, tested positive for using the stimulant trimetazidine in 2014 before his own federation reduced his suspension to three months from a year after accepting his explanation that he had taken the drug to alleviate chest pains. At the Rio Olympics, where he won the 200m freestyle, he was accused of cheating by some of his rivals owing to the controversy surrounding his ban. Sun has won three Olympic gold medals in total and his success in the pool clearly troubles Jamieson.At least Jamieson has found peace within himself – and he is proud of his own London Olympics achievement.“I always targeted that medal and halfway through the race I thought: ‘I’m exactly in the position I want to be but I feel incredible – do I go for broke or do I wait until the last leg?’ It was the best I ever felt in the water. But it was too late, I had too much left.” I think the way Fina have conducted themselves the last couple of years is an absolute disgrace Share on LinkedIn Twitter Share via Email Share on Messenger Anthony Ogogo: ‘To complete my story of overcoming adversity, I need to become world champion’ Now, in a boxing gym in Battersea, where Jamieson has spent the morning talking to young coaches who work with disadvantaged kids, the 29-year-old Glaswegian’s clear thinking stems from him escaping dark places. This is Jamieson’s first day as an ambassador for Laureus whose Sport for Good initiative supports Carneys Community Centre, where we sit, and he talks rivetingly about mental health and problems in British Sport, and about doping in world swimming.Does he believe UK Sport finally acknowledge that its pursuit of medals should be supplemented by a coherent duty of care for its athletes? “It’s definitely been acknowledged – but it would have been hard to ignore this past year, wouldn’t it? I would say it was a crisis. Almost every week another sport’s problems came out. When I first spoke about depression and retirement the number of athletes coming forward was incredible. Some were working for minimum wages after competing in three Olympic Games. They were lost to the system. It’s sometimes forgotten that athletes can be an asset to society – so we keep recycling the same experiences.” interviews Since you’re here… Support The Guardian Share on WhatsApp Swimming Jamieson has surprised himself by returning to the sport which consumed him. He is now a part-time coach in London.“There’s a challenge to bring swimmers through to senior international level in London because of logistics and a lack of Olympic-sized pools. But me and Craig Gibbons [his former Olympic team-mate] have started a new performance centre, with a maximum of 16 swimmers, and we’re trying to build self-awareness and emotional intelligence into their training. We’re including yoga, rock climbing and meditation to develop mindfulness and create a rounded programme. We’re looking at human performance – rather than limiting it to athlete performance.“The difficult part is trying to tell any young athlete: ‘You need a plan outside sport.’ I know I felt this would dilute my focus. That train of thought is the same for many athletes and changing a culture is not easy. There are all these hungry athletes who want to be the best in the world and chase medals, fame, money, recognition. We want them to do that while saying: ‘You need to get your degree.’ We call our group Natare – Latin for swim. Swim England wanted us to call ourselves the Hammersmith Penguins.”Jamieson laughs but he grows more serious when comparing his holistic coaching to his brutal routine as a swimmer. “I was addicted to training. Addicted to being flat-out exhausted, lying on the floor, twitching with lactic acid. I lived for that.”He flogged his body so much that, in 2013, his heart went into arrhythmia, racing at 190 beats-per-minute. “I was on this Versaclimber equipment and went for maximum effort and pushed my heart into an irregular beat. It felt like I’d been kicked in the chest and my heartbeat felt really heavy, really slow. I had a sleep and came back to training four hours later. As I started to warm up again my heart was beating out of my chest and I thought: ‘Something’s really wrong.’“I went straight to A&E and was wired up on ECGs. It’s similar to an induced coma so they slow your heart to four beats-per-minute. They pinpoint the moment at which they [shock] the heart and reset it back into a regular beat. The specialist said if you’re in arrhythmia for more than 24 hours it’s really difficult to reverse at my age. That was terrifying. But my reaction later was pride. It’s almost like I needed that to show my limits. I was training again three days later.” Share on Facebook Pinterest Topics Jamieson’s mental health had deteriorated. “Back in 2008 I knew, at some point, I needed to deal with my depression. That cloud was growing and after London 2012 it was uncontrollable. In early 2014, when I was injured, I missed training for four weeks. I didn’t leave the house. I remember planning a way out and thinking if I’m going to do this what do I need to get in order. How can I make sure my savings are left with my family? Horrendous thoughts.”So he seriously considered taking his own life? “Yeah, it’s horrific. But something clicked and I thought: ‘I need to see my doctor.’ I remember going into her office. I sat down, she just looked at me and said: ‘How can I help?’ I couldn’t speak. I could feel myself welling up and for the next two hours she was amazing. She put me in touch with some good people. Sharing stuff with a psychiatrist is quite difficult but I thought: ‘I never ever want to be in that horrendous place again.’ I really committed to getting better.”This was a year ago when he retired after failing to make the Rio Olympics. Having been the dominant breaststroke swimmer in Britain he left London 2012 expecting to cement that supremacy internationally. But he struggled and, since 2015, Adam Peaty has been a sensation – winning world and Olympic gold. “From 2014 to 2016 it was horrible,” Jamieson says. “I had worked so hard to get to that level in 2012 and I was there for such a short period. But even in 2014, when really struggling, I twice swam within half-a-second of the world record. I don’t know how I managed it. At the Commonwealth trials in Glasgow there were six people in the stands and we swam the fourth fastest time in history. I remember going into a black hole for five days because it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a world record.“Adam and I raced together but we weren’t mates as I was going through a lot. But he’s doing incredible things. His power output and the weights he’s lifting in the gym are like nothing like our sport has seen. He’s a new breed of athlete and changing the face of sprint breaststroke. I’ve got huge respect for him.”The old curse of doping, however, remains. “I don’t want to tarnish everyone with the same brush but we’ve seen foul play with the Russians, eastern bloc nations and the Chinese. Once we were at a [international] camp in Australia at an outdoor pool. There were basic aluminium starting blocks and pouring rain and six athletes swam 3.44 or faster for 400 freestyle. It’s impossible. Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Daniel Gyurta of Hungary still had to smash the world record to deny Jamieson a gold medal. But the Scot had set three successive personal bests in those incredible few days in London. “It’s pretty cool I pieced all that together. I was in the shape of my life but it was not until that last length I truly believed I could be Olympic champion.”Jamieson looks like another kind of champion now, having conquered his addiction and depression. “Last year I wrote myself nine goals. Eight happened and the last was a material thing. I’d always earmarked a fancy watch as a retirement present. I could’ve got it but I didn’t want it in the end.“Now I just want to promote this positive mindset to as many people as possible. I can see if someone is struggling and I want to use all I’ve learnt to help. If we could pool together our experience a bit more, it would be so easy to make a huge change – in sport and life.”In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted free on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Reuse this contentlast_img read more