As we approach the most recognized international sporting competition in the world, The Olympics, we are very excited to introduce our second installment to “The One-on-One”, where we interview a four time Olympian who is competing in his fifth Olympics games this summer in Rio. Today we have George Bovell, a professional swimmer and Olympic bronze medalist who was able tell to us about his journey to the Olympic stage and his experiences representing Trinidad and Tobago in several Olympic Games.
So George, what can you tell us about your journey and preparation for the 2016 Olympics?
It is really down to luck that I continue to swim as I thought that I would be done after the last Olympics. When I was leaving the Olympic Swimming Stadium after the Olympic finals in London, a man approached me with a flyer inviting me to swim a race in his backyard in San Francisco. He was getting a lot of the fastest sprinters in the World together to swim a series of one on one matches, and I decided to go. That gave me a reason to stay in pool and go to the gym in order stay strong. I then went to the race and swam incredibly fast.
For me I always wanted to swim a couple World Cup Meets before I retired. So I thought, “Let me go do one or two, one in Dubai, another in Qatar, then walk away from the sport and get my M.B.A.” Then I went there and had the best times! I went to another competition and had more best times, so I decided last minute to do the whole World Cup, which entailed getting Visas for Russia and China. I kept on getting faster and faster. I was coaching myself, was doing what felt right and giving myself what my body needed. I was swimming faster than ever. The World Cup was definitely one of the most life enhancing experiences that swimming ever gave me, and I managed to come second overall in the competition comprised of 8 competitions.
Swimming was fling easily and it was becoming so natural, so I decided not to hang it up and instead took some time off. I then came back to have a great in the World Championships 50 M freestyle where I got the bronze medal in lane 8 with a time that would have gotten me second in the Olympic Final a year earlier. After that I think I was ready to walk away from the sport at any time, as I was just doing it for fun. But after that race, I had all the justification I needed to stay in the sport until the Olympics. I believed that I still had a chance to be faster than I had ever been before and whether it was I was fast enough to get a medal or not, I didn't care, I just wanted to keep pushing the limits. And now I continue to swim simply to enhance my life.
Now going back, when did you realize that swimming could be a career for you?
I think society comes down on us with an incredible pressure to conform and we succumb to this pressure because we are afraid of the unknown. Growing up I did not know anyone who was a professional swimmer. I knew many doctors, lawyers, engineers, and I think it was a really difficult decision. It was something that did not come easy. I felt it was almost a form of rebellion for me to do something that seemed so out of the box. I pushed myself a little bit into it. Right after college I thought I would swim longer so I pushed and surprisingly it opened up some more. After that I continued to push and it even opened up some more with things starting to conspire for me to a point where it was no longer a career path but a highway where everything was going so fast.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced, and what helped you the most in overcoming that challenge?
I think the biggest challenge that I have dealt with as a swimmer is where I come from. I hate to say it, but that the few athletes who are successful from Trinidad do so despite being from Trinidad and not because they are from Trinidad. I think our culture has a lot that holds us back as it glorifies mediocrity and the easy way out. Our lack of facilities, our lack of respect for our athletes, for our coaches, it is the culture in general that was difficult. And unfortunately to be really good at what I do, I could not do it here and I needed to pursue my swimming in the U.S and in Europe. It is very easy to recognize by looking around and asking ourselves; what kind of facilities do we have? What kind of coaching expertise do we have available to us? Then based on that alone you could realize that in order to pursue your dream to be a swimmer that you would have to do so abroad.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself as developing athlete and why?
There have been some dark days when I have dealt with injuries, times when I cared too much about the results, when I really was grinding, living for the future and sacrificing the present as I believed my goals in the future would make me happy. But the truth is that when you do that, your ends need to justify the means. You become so deeply afraid that if it doesn't work out and you don't achieve your goals, with your ends do not justify your means, you would have wasted your time. In a way for too long, I made it about the destination and not the journey, but the truth is, ‘life is the journey’ - that is the truth. It’s about enjoying what you do. If you enjoy what you do, the success will come.
Another thing that I learned is finding the WHY behind the WHAT you do. I really respect the WHY. You may see the man in the big suit, you see the car, but you don't see the man, the greed, the aggression, the absence of love in what he is doing. What is your why?
Competing in probably the most competitive and elite tournament in the world, the Olympics, what differentiates an athlete from becoming a medalist to a runner up? Mental strength, preparation, luck, training?
I have been under the winning end and the losing end of 1/100th of a second difference and when you win by that difference, it feels good that you won and maybe deep down inside you can’t really claim it. That it was won and not that you won it. The same thing when you lose by a hundredth of a second, you lie awake at night and you realize that you were fourth by 1/100th of a second. There was a thousandth of a second that resulted in that 1/100th being rounded up or rounded down. You begin to think, what could I have done differently? What in my life could have transpired differently in the last few weeks or months that would have made this thousandth of a second different?
When you get into it like that you start to recognize a lot like wow, everything that you put in, who you are today or in life is really circumstantial. No one chose where they were born and where you are today is totally a product and chain of causality. When you recognize that, you realize that things could not have been different, so you don't really regret the past. Because for you to have done something different, it would have required a different you, a different person conditioned by different experiences. You did what you did because of all the experiences that played into you doing that. From then I realized the importance of staying totally committed to the present time and process. So the difference that separates the winners of medals to the losers of medals? We could go back to events before they were even born, that's just the way it is. You just have to be in the process. It is a total commitment to the process that separates the winners from the losers.
What advice do you have for developing athletes who are aiming to compete at a high level, for example, competing professionally, collegiate, or representing their country?
I would recommend that if they are doing it, to get all the way into it and if you are fully committed then you will get more from a deeper experience. It will enhance your life. All my career I thought I was doing swimming but when I look back, swimming was doing me, swimming was giving me experiences with those experiences constituting to my life. You really have to do it all the way. Feel all the highs, the lows, experience the thrill of swimming, if you’re doing something that you don't enjoy and it is not doing that for you, don't waste your time. Find something else that does and it should not be something that you have to really look for either. You probably already know what it is, what really makes you enthusiastic.
We want to thank George again for taking the time to share his experiences and knowledge competing at the highest as he prepares to compete in this year’s Olympic Games.
If you are interested in following George’s journey to Rio 2016 you can find him here:
Facebook: George Bovell