Big Interview: Daniel Sliwinski

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In the sometimes obsessive world of sport, it is refreshing to meet a young man with a healthy disregard for bluster.

Daniel Sliwinski is a pleasant and uncomplicated teenager, who has let his astonishing achievements in the swimming pool do his talking.

He is the rising star of British swimming, and earlier this month the 18-year-old from Penwortham collected a gold medal and smashed two records at the World Youth Swimming Championships in Mexico.

Amazingly, Sliwinski won the men's 100m breaststroke in a time faster than Duncan Goodhew claimed gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the same distance.

Daniel stopped the clock in Monterrey at 1.02.19, a world youth record and also a British youth record.

"It's funny how things work out," said Dan.

"I quit swimming last year. I'd just had enough. I didn't want to do it any more.

"I think I lost my motivation, my drive. I just thought, 'Is it worth bothering anymore?'"

Then he found Preston-born coach Rob Greenwood, who changed Sliwinski's sporting focus overnight.

"I was a nobody before I met Rob," he said.

"We just seemed to hit it off and he found the key.

"In the past, I'd go to national finals, and finish third, fourth and sixth, just doing okay I suppose.

"People told me I had the talent and the potential, but they just thought I was a character, happy to tell a few jokes and stuff.

"I wasn't serious about it really. It has only become serious this year, when I've had the real drive and hunger to succeed. Rob has drawn that potential out of me."

Greenwood was a part of the Great Britain 4x100 medley relay team at the Sydney Olympics and has also competed at the Commonwealth Games and

the European and World Championships.

"I've improved eight seconds this year," said Sliwinski.

"It is incredible. Strangely, I think the turning point was when I had a row with Rob.

"That moment sticks in my head.

"I wasn't doing the times in the training session I should have been doing, and I wasn't in the best of moods. I was shaking my head, muttering about this and that.

"I suppose my body language wasn't very good, and Rob just lost it with me. He ordered me out of the pool and let me stew for 10 minutes.

"It just pressed a button inside me, and I asked to do my work again. I'd never done that before.

"I went back in the pool and did the best swim work of my life.

"Why? I don't know. I just did it. He was shocked it was that good. From that moment, I never looked back."

We sit in the lounge at the family home, and Daniel shows me the thrilling footage of his 100m win in Monterrey.

He cuts through the water like a hungry shark and then blitzes the field in the final 10 metres.

"When they raised the Union Jack and I sang God Save the Queen with that medal around my neck, it was just the best moment ever," he said.

"I probably could have cried, but I thought I'd better not.

"It was hard to keep my emotions in check, though, and I just pulled a funny face at my team-mates.

"There was a 20-foot high screen with my face on it and the Union Jack fluttering in the background.

"It was a bit daunting really," he racalls. "My friend, Rob Bale, had swam in the 200 metres before my race.

"Normally when he races, I run up and down the pool shouting like a lunatic, cheering him on.

"This time I couldn't. There were tears in my eyes.

"He finished second and I was going, 'Oh my God. He nearly won'.

"Then it was my turn. I was so nervous. I felt physically sick.

"I did my warm-up in the pool, but I had to get out I was in such a state. I'd never felt like that before.

"It was there, I just had to bring it out.

"We went mental after the race, hugging each other and we must have looked like mad-heads at the side of the pool.

"The American coaches had boasted about how their lads had the race in the bag already.

"But we all went faster than our personal bests.

"My parents have given me amazing support over the years, going to my competitions and ferrying me here and there, but they couldn't come to Mexico.

"When I returned to Preston there was a giant Union Jack draped over the front door.

"I don't usually like a big fuss, but that was nice.

"Did I go to Mexico thinking I could win like that? I'm not sure.

"I was aiming to medal, and I thought I could do it.

"It is just beginning to sink in now what I did achieve."

He is already looking ahead to 2012 when London stages the Olympic Games.

British swimming has selected a training squad of 115 athletes to try to ensure that Great Britain achieves its goals as host.

There are 57 clubs represented on the programme and Lancashire boast the most – eight swimmers.

Dan went close to booking his place in the GB team for Beijing, just narrowly missing out on qualification.

Sliwinski already holds three British records in the youth age group, including the 200m breaststroke which he set at the Olympic Trials/British Championships earlier this year.

Last month he sat A-levels in physics, mathematics and Russian, so life has proved just as hectic out of the deep end.

"I'm 18 now and they say 22 is the prime age for a swimmer, so London is my goal," he said.

"I'm in the 2012 training squad but that squad is constantly under review so you have to keep progressing.

"The top breaststroke swimmer in England, Chris Cook, is 29 and he's just swam the fastest time of his life, so it's not an exact science."

When he talks about his punishing training schedule it shows the unstinting dedication required to compete at the highest level.

"It can be really gruelling and you have to make the sacrifices, otherwise why bother?" he said.

"I rarely drink alcohol and before an event I'm not allowed to do very much at all.

"My coach went mad when I walked into Preston city centre. It has to be total rest.

"When I'm in heavy training it is a real killer.

"I'm clocking between 55 and 60,000 metres in the pool a week.

"I'm at West View for 4.30am to start work.

"We do the warm-up routine and then I go in the pool at 5am.

"When I returned from Mexico I was in the water just a few hours after coming off the plane.

"My warm-down was 4,000m, but that is not a lot really.

"I think swimming is the toughest competition sport of all.

"It can be quite strange in the big competitions because the other competitors don't speak.

"People handle the pressure in different ways I suppose.

"I'm quite relaxed, just listen to a bit of hip-hop or R&B on my headphones.

"I like to mellow out and I swim better when I'm in that frame of mind.

"I just turn up, stand behind the blocks and see what happens when I hit the water.

Tomorrow Dan goes to the European Youth Championships in Serbia, keen to chalk up fresh success.

"It was a privilege to win a gold medal for my country in Mexico, but I can't celebrate yet.

"I'm still hungry for more.

"My aim is to win all three breaststroke events in Belgrade.

"I'm in the form of my life, so why not?"