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When George Bovell takes to the starting blocks in the 50m freestyle event on August 2, he will tap into all his swimming and life experience to try and end his Olympic career on a high note. And he has considerable reserves at the ready. Last summer, an auto accident left him with a bruise on his brain. For nearly two months, doing any mundane physical task like walking up the stairs could have triggered a stroke. However, the Trinidad and Tobago native made a full recovery, and he is now poised for another tilt at an Olympic medal.
While Bovell, who is sponsored by USANA, will be pumped going into the London Games, he is somewhat of an old hand at this kind of thing. In 2000, Bovell went to Sydney as a starry-eyed teenager and made his Olympic debut Down Under.In 2004, he bagged a bronze medal in the 200m individual medley (an event for which he once held the world record) in Athens, and in 2008 he had the honor of carrying his country’s flag at the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Now London is calling, but Bovell isn’t just going there to make up the numbers. He believes that he has a real shot at making it onto the podium for the 50m freestyle. While Cesar Cielo (BRA), Nathan Adrian (USA) and James Magnussen (AUS) are the men to watch, Bovell holds the fourth fastest time in 50m freestyle history, and the 6’5″ 205-pounder knows that on any given day he can be a serious threat.
At the moment, the 29-year-old is wrapping up preparations at his Olympic camp in Gijon, Spain, but we caught up with him a few weeks ago at his training base at the University of Michigan, where he was working with world-renowned sprint swimming coach Mike Bottom and the Club Wolverine Elite team, to talk about swimming, health and the challenges that await at the Games.
You had an auto accident last year, can you tell us about it?
A dump truck collided into my car door. I saw it coming, so I threw my body weight over to the passenger side, which is how I didn’t get crushed. It was last August, right after the World Championships.It forced me to spend seven weeks very, very quietly. If I went upstairs too fast or got my blood pressure up too much, I could have run the risk of having a stroke.I had a bruise on my brain. I lost a lot of muscle and I did not have much of an appetite. I wasn’t able to work out, and I was amazed at how quickly you can atrophy. When I started back from scratch, I started back with a lot of general physical fitness with full body weights and cross training.
Your old coach Mike Bottom contacted you during your recovery and eventually you went to train with him in Michigan, but how long did it take before your felt back to normal again?
After repeated cat scans and monitoring, the bruise was absorbed, and I got the all clear from the neurosurgeons to resume training. It took my body a while to catch up with the level of exertion I was putting it under. At the beginning of the season you get so tired, but over a week or two your body finds a homeostasis and you are able to take the work so much better.
In addition to your work at the pool, what kind of gym work do you do?
We follow the belief that the better athlete you are the better swimmer you will be. I don’t really do weights that are too specific. I do a lot of Olympic lifting. I’ve gotten into pulling recently; lat pulls and pull-ups are very important in our sport.
I have a good strength-to-weight ratio. I want to be explosive because I start from a standstill. So, the better my vertical can be, the better my dive can be.
How has the ban on the full-body swimsuit impacted your career?
I think I am a swimmer that benefits from not having the suit. For swimmers who tend to come in and muscle things, the suit provided that artificial buoyancy. Your stroke has to be so finely tuned to create lift as well as propulsion, and when you have a suit that is floating you the lift part of your stroke is less important. People came in and were swimming like washing machines, just flailing, and the suits were carrying them and keeping their form. I think I am a swimmer who swims based on feel and technique. Swimming was becoming too much of a technology-driven sport.
How far can you go in this year’s Games, do you believe you can win a medal in the 50m freestyle?
I absolutely believe it. I am stronger and faster and I have enjoyed my swimming up here (in Michigan). I think if I do it right I have a great chance of winning another medal. This race is so unforgiving and is won by hundredths of a second. They say it is the closest in all of sports.
There are so many phases that go into this one lap race; the dive, the kick out, the break out and the acceleration phase. (It is important) to maintain that phase and try to get the cadence to finish flush at the end of the stroke without having to glide into the wall, and without having to touch with your hand too close.
What does your diet consist of when you are in full-training mode?
Well, it’s about getting enough calories in first of all. You want to get a lot of protein in because you are lifting weights and you are tearing yourself down, so you need to be able to rebuild. I try to get a lot of healthy fats as well as it is important for your body to make its own testosterone. I take some supplements, of course, Usana, and you do find when you punish your body to this level that it is beyond the level of training for health and wellness. You are training to the point where you are breaking your body down. You are almost getting over-tired, and it is easy to pick up a cold or anything that is going around so we take vitamins, as your health is such a crucial part of it.That is why I am into Usana vitamins. I trust them.