Coming into the Olympic Games Australian Mitch Larkin was the defending world champion and sat atop of the world rankings in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. In Rio Larkin did not perform the way that he or many expected, finishing second in the 200 backstroke and fourth in the 100 backstroke.
“My goals going into Rio were to swim faster than I did in Kazan, and hopefully come away with a gold medal,” Larkin told SwimSwam.
In Kazan he posted a 52.40 in the 100 backstroke and a 1:53.58 in the 200 backstroke. In Rio he recorded a 52.43 in the 100 and a 1:53.96 in the 200. He also came into the competition having put up performances that were much quicker earlier in the season winning gold in both events at World Cup (Dubai) in November in a 52.11 and 1:53.17.
“For 12 months after Kazan, I swum so consistently I definitely put the pressure on myself in Rio to maintain that consistency, if not step up again to the next level. As a result both of my final swims weren’t up to what I wanted.”
His lifetime best in the 100 would still not have beaten American Ryan Murphy‘s Olympic performance of 51.97, but his 200 time would have topped Murphy’s winning time of 1:53.62.
Having put up such strong performances in Kazan and earlier in the 2015-16 season Larkin felt a tremendous amount pressure to win in Rio, “Very much so, this is one thing that I kick myself about,” said Larkin “I knew I was swimming well I just got caught up in the hype of the situation and didn’t allow myself to relax and swim the way I usually do.”
“For 12 months after Kazan I swum so consistently that I definitely put the pressure on myself in Rio to maintain that consistency, if not step up again to the next level. As a result both of my final swims weren’t up to what I wanted.”
He also felt the expectation on himself and others to redeem the Australian team’s performance in London, “There was a lot of pressure placed upon four or five athletes in particular to change the result from London and prove that the swim team is back in fantastic shape.”
If he had to do it all over again he would look at what it meant to win an Olympic medal in a very different way, “Medals don’t shape you as a person,” explained Larkin. “For a while I had a thought that I would be a failure if I didn’t come home with a medal. But there is such a deeper message that comes with doing what we do. Teaching the young kids watching that it’s fantastic to dream, work your butt off and chase your dream, but its okay to come so close and just miss it. It’s the fun of dreaming.”
“I think I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself at the games.”
Despite the results not being what was expected he feels good about his Olympic experience, “Looking back I couldn’t be prouder. Originally I was upset, coming to the realization that it would be another four years until I receive that opportunity again.”
“We had a press conference in the beginning of the week, there was five athletes there including myself. After the swimming in Rio we held another press conference and I was the only athlete to return from the beginning of the week. There was a massive realization for me seeing so many of my close teammates dreams slip through their fingers, mine too in a way. At the end of the toughest week I’ve faced as a swimmer to come away with an individual silver, I couldn’t be prouder.”
The next quadrennial will be very different for Larkin after deciding to change coaches after spending the last eight years with Michael Bohl, “It was tough, but there was a part of my mind that was considering it and I knew if I didn’t listen to that, I may have left the sport, in a number of years, with doubts. I felt like it was time for a change and new challenges. I want to continue learning in the sport and want to see what other coaches are able to teach me.”
He knows that his relationship with Bohl and what the veteran coach has taught him is a big reason for his success, “I came to Bohly as a young 16 year old basically not much. He taught me everything, some of his key messages were;
‘It’s not about feeling, its about racing.’ On race day, it doesn’t matter all that matters is getting into the race and fighting.
‘No one becomes a champion by accident.’
“He taught me so much about stroke, technique and swimming relaxed. He pushed me during sessions to a completely new place.”
Larkin is now faced with the decision of who he will work with moving forward,”I’m looking for a coach that can teach me new things, someone who has a keen eye for detail, whilst maintaining a similar training program to that of Michael,” said Larkin. “I’m spending the next few months trialling around five coaches.”
“I used this analogy; I’ve been with Michael for eight years, and just say he’s Australia, I just don’t know what the rest of the world (other coaches) can offer.”
“So far the coaches I’ve trialled have taught me a few things, and certainly can offer a lot in their own areas of expertise, its just about weighing the pros and cons and finding the best.”