Former gold medalist returns to the pool; eyes world number one spot

Martin Williams at his training base, Barnet Copthall Swimming Club.

Martin Williams at his training base, Barnet Copthall Swimming Club. - Credit: Archant

AFTER 19 years, curiosity got the better of him.

Martin Williams, of Chiswell Green, a former swimmer for Great Britain, got back into the pool to see if he could still cut it in the sport he left in 1993. He was ranked 13th in the world in the 100m breast stroke at the time.

“I just wanted to see what times I could do,” the 39-year-old told the Herts Ad.

As it turns out, very quick ones.

One blistering run later at the world famous Barnet Copthall pool and Williams and his coach, Ian Wollard, set him a new target: world number one.

A lofty aim to be sure but Williams has the potential to pull it off; a quick look at his accolades proves it. As well as his ranking, Williams sports a gold medal from the 1993 European Championships, which he earned as part of a relay team featuring Olympian and Strictly Come Dancing contestant Mark Foster.

But, can he realistically better his ranking as a 39-year-old who has not swum competitively for 19 years, albeit in a different age group? He thinks so.

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“I have always been a naturally talented swimmer and you never lose the discipline,” he said. “And, from watching the Olympics, breast stroke times haven’t progressed as much as others.

“But Ian was realistic with me saying ‘If you don’t come in the top three at the nationals, then you won’t do it.’ So I need to be first, second or third in the UK by the end of the year.

“At my first session I swam what would have been the best time at the county masters and seventh in the UK in my age group (35-39). Those times were a major factor in my return.”

The prestige of being the best swimmer in the world is motivation enough but Williams says he has more than that pushing him towards his goal.

“I want to make my children proud and show them that with focus, determination and commitment anyone can be competitive.

“And,” he jokingly admits, “I want to get them into swimming.”

Williams is a long way from his goal at the moment and has embarked on an intensive training regime to help him shift the extra “two or three stone” he is carrying.

His first major test, however, is just six weeks away on June 2 when he competes at the Southern Counties meet in Enfield. If he can post a fast time the swimming world will stand up and take notice.

“At the moment nobody from the swimming world knows I’m back in the pool so I want to come from nowhere to smash the competition,” he said.

Williams’ confidence is his ability is infectious and it’s hard to imagine him not reaching his goals, a sentiment echoed by Wollard.

“When he returned to the water a couple of weeks ago, I could see straight away that he hadn’t lost his technique,” he said.

“Although he isn’t very “water fit” at the moment, it is obvious he has the desire to achieve…I see no reason why he couldn’t retrieve his success [as a teenager] as a mature adult athlete.

“I feel confident he can achieve his desire to win medals at next year’s World Masters Championships in Montreal.”

However, Wollard stepped back from guaranteeing every medal and record for Williams, saying “it will be a tough job” and “it won’t be easy,” but, with 15 months before Montreal and Williams’ steely determination driving him through the water, anything is possible.