Mark Szaranek was hoping to be there as the Rio Olympics approached nearly five years ago, but there were little hopes for a seat on the plane.
However, this time, his aspirations are much greater.
“I wasn’t far off from making the team for Rio, but I didn’t feel like I had a surefire chance of making the team, it was more of an outside chance,” he says.
“This time, though, I feel like I should make the team.”
Szaranek ultimately lost out on forming Team GB for the 2016 Olympics, and while he approached the selection process with more hope than expectation, the disappointment of losing out on Olympic participation did not dampen it.
The shock of not making it to Rio is what has motivated him, at least in part, ever since. He has been an important part of the British squad in recent years, taking silver and bronze at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. He knows he’s going to be well-placed for the British Championships in April to qualify for Tokyo, which serves as the Olympic Trials.
Had 2020 gone differently, Szaranek would have been an Olympian already. Of course, the postponement of last summer’s Games was frustrating, particularly because he was at his peak in the first few months of the year, but the 25-year-old medley specialist knew that the coronavirus was turning the world of sports upside down.
We did a big block of altitude training in January, and I felt in the shape of my life and ready for the Trials when I came back,”We did a big block of training at altitude in January, and when I came back I felt in the shape of my life and ready for the Trials,”
I felt really confident and was in the best shape I could be in, so it was a shame not to be able to demonstrate that.
I was not so heartbroken as it was made out to be by some people on social media. Some people spoke about how devastated they were, but I felt it was a pity, but it just gives me an extra year to plan.
At the height of the pandemic, Szaranek was out of the water for a whopping fifteen weeks – his longest time ever out of the pool – but he was lucky enough to return to action as early as October. Szaranek traveled to Budapest as a member of the Cali Condors, along with hundreds of the best swimmers in the world for the International Swimming League, a team competition newly established that features
This year, in a Covid-secured bubble, the event took place over six weeks, and the chance to participate in world-class races was just what he wanted to save something from an incredibly non-competitive year.
Szaranek’s team, the Cali Condors, emerged triumphant, and he was delighted with his return to the competitive arena with the Scot just a touch from his best days, as well as the privilege of being able to at least briefly banish any pandemic concerns.
Szaranek will be training with his teammates at the University of Stirling for the rest of the winter months, including Duncan Scott, Ross Murdoch and Stephen Milne, all of whom also have Tokyo in their sights.
Szaranek’s move to Stirling in 2019, having spent the formative years of his senior career in Florida while studying at the University of Florida, was something of a lifestyle shock to the system, but now that he has acclimatized to the Scottish weather, he admits he couldn’t be in a better place as he strives to fulfill his potential.
“I’m really enjoying Stirling – it’s exactly what I need at this point in my career, and we all have similar ambitions, which is great,” he says.
It’s really different from Florida – the lifestyle has changed a lot and the preparation is differently organized.
“In Stirling, we built a lot more recovery into our training during the season, whereas in the U.S. a lot of programs are on full blast all the time; you train as hard as you can and then take a big break at the end of the season, whereas our training here is much more based on science. It’s based on our individual physiology and that’s very good for me and also for the others.”
Before he can concentrate too much on the Olympics themselves, Szaranek has to make sure he meets the criteria at the British Trials. Even, he knows he can hit a standard that could see him make a real mark next summer if luck is on his side.
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