Interview: Team England swimmer Fran Halsall

Sports Mole caught up with English swimming medal hopeful Francesca Halsall ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

One of England's most successful athletes at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi was Southport-born swimmer Fran Halsall.

After going to the 2006 Commonwealths at just 16 and winning two medals in Melbourne, Halsall stormed to five medals - one gold, three silvers and one bronze - in India four years ago.

In the two Olympics that she's been to in Beijing and London, Halsall has agonisingly missed out on medals after appearing in eight finals. Now she's got her sights set on more Commonwealth glory at the upcoming Games in Glasgow.

Sports Mole caught up with 24-year-old at Team England's holding camp earlier this week to talk Commonwealths, Olympic disappointment and being a mentor to the new members of the team.

Francesca Halsall looks on after winning the Women's 50m Butterfly Final on day four of the British Gas Swimming Championships 2014 at Tollcross International Swimming Centre on April 13, 2014© Getty Images

You won five medals at the last Commonwealths in Delhi, what are your memories of those Games?

"It was interesting because it was my second Games, I'd been to Melbourne (in 2006), which was an incredible event to go to at 16 - flying out to Australia, spending three weeks on the Gold Coast and then going over to Melbourne for the Games and the village. Just being around all those athletes was incredible. Still to this day, all I have is amazing memories of Melbourne.

"When Delhi came around four years later I was in a totally different position. Going into it I was ranked to get medals in five or six events so I thought 'right, OK, I've got to take this more seriously, concentrate and make sure everything's right'. It was good to be able to go there and get five medals, but I wasn't at my best and looking back I would have liked some of the medals to have been different colours. Still, you can't really complain with that kind of medal haul!"

Is there one thing in particular that you've taken away from Delhi?

"Yeah, I think the one thing I learnt massively from Delhi is how swimmers go a lot on feel. How you feel in the water can depend on how you sleep, how you wake up. You think 'I'm going to swim well today because I feel good'. But, in Delhi, I wasn't feeling great and I still stood up and had to race and get the job done.

"The biggest thing I learned was not to go on how I feel. I've just got to get up and do a job. No matter how you feel, you've just got to do your best. You're not going to feel amazing every day, you can't expect to stand on the blocks for an Olympic final and expect everything to be perfect. Knowing that has made me a lot more relaxed in the last few years."

Francesca Halsall competes in the Women's 50m Butterfly heats on day three of the British Gas Swimming Championships 2014 at Tollcross International Swimming Centre, Glasgow on April 12, 2014© Getty Images

Is there more or less pressure on you as you're one of the most experienced swimmers in the English team?

"I'm not sure. I kind of feel that because I've done it, there shouldn't be any expectation on me because I've done that already! In a way, it makes it a little easier because I don't have to prove myself. It's not like I'm trying to force it. I've got the confidence in myself to be able to get medals at major meets.

"People probably look at rankings and take things like that into account, but for me I just think that I've done it before so I just want to enjoy my swimming and see how fast I can go."

You missed out on a medal at your home Olympics in London. How did you pick yourself up after those Games? You worked with famous sports psychologist Steve Peters...

"I worked with one of Steve's team, and she's been really good. My coach (James Gibson) put me in touch with them because he swam in an Olympics in 2004 a year after becoming world champion and didn't really deliver as expected in Athens. He didn't get the podium he was expected to so he put me in touch with Steve. He said 'Fran, I think this will be really good for you and help you'. You'll be able to get everything off your chest and start again. It has helped a lot and they're really good guys. I definitely buy into what they say.

"Now that I've taken the emotion out of London, I can look back at it and say that I did my best. I didn't get the result that I wanted at the end of it, but I can improve on that and learn from that. Instead of watching the race and bursting into tears like I would have done 12 months ago, I now watch the race and see that I dropped my stroke rate and that my start wasn't as good. You pick things apart and put it together and try different things.

"[Before seeing Steve's people] I wouldn't have been able to come to this pool and swim without crying! At the home Olympics I was 22, so for the six-seven years before that I thought 'I want go to London, I want to swim well and be on the podium with my parents in the stand'. That was my ultimate dream and to not make the podium by two-tenths of a second, it was really difficult to get my head around."

Great Britain's Francesca Halsall after competing during the Swimming Women's 50m Freestyle preliminaries heat seven on day fifteen of the 15th FINA World Championships in Barcelona on August 3, 2013© Getty Images

You sound like you've got a mature head on your shoulders now, do you consider yourself a mentor in the England team because of all your experience?

"It's kind of funny because I was the youngest on the team for quite a while and now there's 24 new people on the team and I'm like 'this my third one!' It is nice, I do feel that if they need me they can come to me. I'm quite open and I like to think that I'm not scary. I'd say I'm quite approachable for the youngsters on the team. I always try to speak to them and make sure they're all OK. To be honest, they seem mature, probably more mature than me in most ways!"

Are you looking forward to being back in a village with all the other athletes?

"Definitely. The village environment's amazing and the people you end up meeting and seeing, in an Olympic village especially, is just crazy. I remember in Beijing I was just sitting there and Pele walks through the dining hall. I was just like 'what's going on?!' this is ridiculous. [Rafael] Nadal is just eating dinner on his own. I almost went and sat next to him as he needed some friends!

"The only thing is, it's get you out of the habit of paying for food! You're just going up and getting whatever you want all the time. Then when you get home you actually have to buy your own food, what's that about? You also get to live in a little apartment with four or six girls and it's always such good fun as we get on really well."

The swimming takes place at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre between July 24 and July 29, and you can follow it all on Sports Mole. Halsall will be swimming in the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m butterfly and the relay events.

Rebecca Adlington poses for a picture during the launch of the British Gas SwimBritain event at the London Aquatic Centre on April 9, 2014
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