Scottish swimming Robbie Renwick.jpg

Under the surface

How do Scotland's swimmers win so many medals at major competitions? 

Swimming has firmly established itself as one of Scotland’s leading performance sports.

Since the early 2000s, Scots have stood on podiums on a regular basis at European and World Championships. Hannah Miley alone has won a staggering 28 international medals.

Several Scots have become habitual Olympic finalists, and one, Michael Jamieson, set the standard for the whole of British swimming when he scaled the podium with his silver medal at London 2012.

Progress shows no sign of abating. Eight Scots swimmers will compete at the 2016 Olympic Games and four at the Paralympic Games, continuing the feel-good factor from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games where a host of swimmers won the hearts – and respect – of the nation.

So how did they do it?

In our first video, Scottish Swimming’s highly experienced director of performance, Ally Whike, joins sportscotland high performance manager Phil Reid to reflect on the sport’s progress and identify the key factors that drove it.


The perfect synergy

Some of Scotland’s swimmers have experimented with different bases and different coaches within the high-performance umbrella created by British Swimming. The one constant has been the provision of support from the sportscotland institute of sport, as underlined in this short video by 2016 European 200m breaststroke champion Ross Murdoch.

In our final video, Patrick Miley, who has coached his daughter Hannah throughout her extraordinary career, talks about her preparations for the Rio Olympics and the evolution of their coach/daughter relationship. 


Exploring the outer limits

One of the many secrets of this success story is innovation in preparation. The athletes need to have a champion’s mindset, of course, as epitomised by the likes of Miley and Murdoch, but the application of science is also of fundamental importance - and that is one area where the sportscotland institute of sport comes into its own.

Murdoch and Robbie Renwick talked to us recently about the “edge” that their support gives them in the rarefied zone of international competition and there is no better example of this than tensiomiography (TMG).

TMG, a muscle diagnostic tool, has been at the forefront of the quest for improvement in elite Scottish swimming for several years. Its application in Scotland is the result of a collaboration between the Institute and Stirling University, which underlines the power of the network on which Murdoch and Renwick rely to keep them competitive at the top level.

Dr Malcolm Fairweather, head of sports science and innovation at the sportscotland institute of sport, says: "The data provided by the original work on TMG in the lead-up to Glasgow 2014 was so positive that we entered into a new three-year partnership with Stirling University with a focus on preparing the swimmers for Rio, the Gold Coast, and beyond.

"The key people in the partnership are Dr Angus Hunter, who provides the academic and scientific knowledge, and a post-doctorate student, Lewis McGregor, who provides the data collection working with Scottish/British Swimming in Stirling as well as at training camps and competitions.

"The measurements picked up through TMG, which is completely non-invasive, provide markers on levels of fatigue like nothing else can, including the athletes themselves.

"Building on what we already know we are now looking at skeletal muscle areas and the neuro muscular aspects of recovery – basically, how the muscles are working and how the nerves that work to and from the muscles are sending and receiving signals.

“This data is invaluable to the athletes and coaches in helping to understand fatigue and recovery."

How the athletes feel

Appearing at the launch of the Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards, Murdoch and Renwick both spoke enthusiastically about the importance of the support they receive from the institute.


Ross Murdoch, left, and Robbie Renwick at the launch of the Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards. Picture: CGS/Craig Watson

Renwick, 27, is heading to his third Olympic Games, having already participated in two individual freestyle finals in Beijing and London, while Murdoch, 22, is about to experience the ultimate sporting stage for the first time. He will compete in the 100m breaststroke in Rio.

Murdoch said: “The sportscotland institute of sport, to me, is the thing that makes Scotland brilliant.

“It’s the thing that makes the difference to all of our athletes and to have that unrivalled support, that gives me an edge when it comes down to standing on the blocks.

“It’s the things that go unseen that make the biggest difference.”

Renwick added: “The support has just meant everything to my swimming career.

“Having physios on standby to put my body together, having strength & conditioning coaches to build up my strength along with nutritionists and sport scientists, it’s such a huge team and it really does give us athletes the best opportunity at becoming as successful as possible.”

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