Interview: Record-breaking English swimmer Liam Tancock

Sports Mole caught up with world-record holder Liam Tancock to discuss the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and plenty more.

Despite a rocky road over the last year, Liam Tancock remains Britain's most successful male swimmer of the last decade.

The Exeter-born backstroke specialist holds the world record over 50m after his performance at the 2009 Rome World Championships and is now looking to get back to his best after an injury-plagued build-up to Glasgow 2014.

Sports Mole recently caught up with the 29-year-old at Team England's training camp to discuss the upcoming Commonwealths, his hopes for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and much more.

Liam Tancock looks on after the 100m Backstroke heats on day one of the British Gas Swimming Championships in Glasgow on April 10, 2014© Getty Images

How would you describe your preparation for Glasgow so far?

"Interesting. If you asked me that question in any other year of my career from when I first started competing at the age of eight until last year, I would have said 'yep, nailed it, everything's gone perfect'. I could pretty much tell you within a tenth of a second what time I was gonna split at the 50 and what time I would finish at the 100.

"But, for me over the last year or so, I've been an injured athlete. It took its toll, no-one really knew what it was. We spoke to loads of different specialists, got MRI scans, got X-rays, injections - the works. Still, no-one knew what it was. It was so frustrating.

"Then, in December last year, I said come on, we're seeing some of the best minds in the business. I'm not making this up, this is not a psychological thing. This is a problem, I can't swim. When you're an athlete and you can't compete, it's the worst thing ever."

What was the next step? How did you eventually solve the problem?

"We checked into the British Olympic Association's intensive rehab unit down at Bisham Abbey. You check in, you stay down there and they monitor everything about you from your sleep, your movement, everything. They've got a team down there and you are their project. I was down there for about 10 days and about six of them correlated all this different data. They said 'right, let's have a look at ya' and found out that it was nothing to do with my shoulders but actually my hips.

"They had found the problem, brilliant. At the time I didn't know if what I was doing was helping it, not helping it. We found out how to fix it and they said it was really lucky that I hadn't had surgery. Then I was back in the water by the fourth of January, slowly building it up and feeling amazing to be swimming again. The mindset was do what you can do, not what you can't. I didn't want to make it worse.

"I was only really swimming once a day and doing minimal lifting in the gym because I didn't want to aggravate it. A couple of months went past, then there was the trials. They were a big unknown because I just hadn't done the training. Went there, swam OK and qualified for the team. I thought 'right I'm on the team now, I'm no longer an injured athlete.'"

Liam Tancock starts the Men's 50m Backstroke Final on day four of the British Gas Swimming Championships in Glasgow on April 13, 2014© Getty Images

So how has it been since you got back fit? Are you feeling at 100% for Glasgow?

"Well, when you go from no training to lots of training you get fatigued pretty quick. It did take its toll, I was absolutely hanging but as an athlete it's gonna be like that. We're now a week out from the Commonwealth Games and I can rest up. To be honest, it's an unknown. I don't know what I'm gonna do at the Commonwealth Games. As I said, previous years I could have nailed the time and been within a tenth, but I don't know. I really don't know. I've done everything I possibly can and I'll stand behind the blocks come day one at the Games and give it 100%.

"I'm going to be standing out there as the one who's been there the longest. I've got the most knowledge and I'm going to use that to my advantage. If there's anyone that can do it, it's me. I'll hold my hands up, I am a bit weaker this year, but that doesn't mean you can't still pull it out."

Is Glasgow going to be your last major Games? Will you make it to Rio for the next Olympics?

"For me, this is the dip in the road of a good career. It's almost restarted my journey on the way to Rio. This is the start of another two years leading up to Rio. It doesn't really matter what goes on in Glasgow, I'm just gonna go out and compete and do the best that I can, even though I've been to two Commonwealths before and picked up multiple medals, gold medals and done some special things. It doesn't really matter, it's all about the long-term goal for me. No-one really looks at the past anyway, no-one really cares.

"It's definitely the start of a journey. If I'm honest, no-one wants a dip in their career, no-one wants an injury. You don't want to have to start at the bottom again, but that's what you've gotta do. You've gotta roll with the punches."

Liam Tancock of Loughborough University in action during the Mens 50m Backstroke Final during day three of the British Gas Swimming Championships in Sheffield on June 28, 2013© Getty Images

How weird is it not knowing what you're capable of after so many years at the top?

"You gain confidence over the years and years, going from the junior up to the senior ranks. You get more in tune with your body and understand it. This is also quite exciting though. You think 'what can I do?' In the past, I would have gone into these meets as one of the favourites. I won't be this time. It's never affected me being a favourite, I actually quite like it, but the pressure's on someone else now. They're probably thinking 'oh, I wonder what Liam can do'. They'll be more worried about me than I am about them, that's for sure."

What about London? Were you hurt by missing out on a medal at a home Games?

"Actually, I really wasn't. Obviously everyone wants to win a medal. There's only three medals up for grabs and when you think how many people want to win it and don't even make it to the Olympics, I only missed out by a fraction. It is frustrating because I've been to two Olympics now and made five finals.

"In Beijing I came eighth, seventh and sixth, in London I came fifth and fourth, so Rio should be good if we're going along those lines! I really don't think you can be disappointed with giving your best and I can honestly say I did that. I gave it me all. Everything I could possibly do, I did. So I'm content with that."

Liam Tancock competes in the Men's 50m Backstroke heats on day three of the British Gas Swimming Championships in Glasgow on April 12, 2014© Getty Images

You described your current state as a dip in the road of your career, are you fully confident that you will be back to your best for Rio?

"Yeah yeah, I wouldn't be here if I didn't. I really wouldn't. I know I can push it with the best guys in the world. Even though I'm getting older, I think the swimming world's getting older as well. I've met so many athletes over my career that've said 'if I knew what I knew once I'd finished swimming during my career, I would have been a different athlete'. I'm lucky enough that I've taken that information from my friends that have retired over the years and applied it to myself and some of the new guys in the team.

"People ask if it's a bit desperate trying to complete the perfect career. I've gained pretty much every major medal apart from at the Olympics. It's not necessarily what I'm waiting for. It's just all about doing what I can do and it's not really about what people are doing around you. If I can pick up tips and tricks off them, great. You don't want to focus too much on your competitors though. If you completely race to their strengths, it probably plays to your weakness.

"I'm excited about the journey over the next couple of years. I can't believe how quick it's gone as well - as if London was already two years ago and now Rio is just two years away."

Although you say swimming's getting older, there's plenty of young members in the English team. What's the vibe like?

"It's really good, yeah. I'm one of the oldest and able to pass on my experience to the other athletes in an unintentional mentor kinda way. People will ask me questions and support or just a general chat and I'm a pretty open guy. When you sit down with the young guys you learn stuff to and they keep me young!"

Tancock will be defending his 50m and 100m backstroke titles when the swimming takes place at Tollcross International Swimming Centre between July 24-29. You can follow it all on Sports Mole.

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