For most athletes, retirement is a definitive full stop to a sporting career, but three years after saying goodbye to the pool, synchronised swimmers Olivia Federici and Katie Clark have returned stronger than ever as they prepare to make a splash in Rio.
After diving back into the sport last year, Federici and Clark – who qualified Team GB a quota place in March – were announced on Wednesday as the two British synchronised swimmers heading to this summer’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games, marking a remarkable comeback to the sport they both so clearly adore.
We’ve got a lot of talented swimmers coming up which is really exciting for the sport
This will not be a maiden Games for either, with Federici having competed in both Beijing and London and Clark having made her bow on home soil four years ago.
Both were members of the team that finished sixth in the capital in 2012, but as the pair prepare to compete in the duet event this time around, confidence is high after a string of strong results.
And as they continue to see their scores increase from one competition to the next, Federici and Clark admit they couldn’t be happier to be back in the water.
“When I had the meeting to say I was retiring, my coach told me that I had more potential and more left in me, and that stuck with me,” said 22-year-old Clark.
“At the time, it felt right to leave but when I thought about the opportunity to come back, I’d never been part of a duet before and I really wanted to push myself that little bit further. I kept pushing and now I’ve made the team for Rio.”
“I wanted to get back to the sport that I love,” added Federici. “I had a break and experienced life, but I had a really positive feeling about coming back and Rio was always going to be a big challenge.
“Being an athlete is always a very big sacrifice, not just for me but for my family, and I didn’t want to come back and embarrass myself by not being good enough. But it has all definitely been worth it.”
While Federici and Clark busy themselves preparing for the challenge of a lifetime in Rio, the sport faces another test a little closer to home.
As it looks to boost the numbers of athletes competing in synchro, the pressure is on to continue the legacy of London 2012, and after seeing the sport’s popularity surge following the home Games, the girls are determined to advertise the thrill of the sport further on the biggest stage of all.
“Before London 2012, we worked very hard on educating the public on synchronised swimming and getting it more widespread so people understood more about what it is about,” said 26-year-old Federici, who took up the sport as soon as she was old enough to learn.
“People often still think about the very old style of synchronised swimming with the athletes floating around in pretty patterns, but now, it’s very fast, powerful and dynamic and we are one of the sports who train the most.
“From that and since 2012, we’ve had a much bigger intake into synchronised swimming which is really positive and we’ve got a lot of talented swimmers coming up which is really exciting for the sport.”
Clark added: “I used to work as a swimming coach at my local club, and we saw something like a 300% increase in synchronised swimmers joining our club on the year before which is huge.
“There was such a buzz about the sport at the time so I’m hoping that can be replicated again this year.”
Images courtesy of Sportsbeat/Luke Britton
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