With Olympic fever fully setting in all over the Great Britain it seemed like a great excuse to celebrate the achievements of local girl Katy Sexton. Katy is a former Olympic swimmer who hails from Portsmouth and has won a host of titles while competing for Great Britain.
Katy became the first British swimmer to win a World Championship title, when she won the Women’s 200m at the 2003 World Championships. As well as competing in two Olympic Games Katy has also represented Great Britain in four World Championships and three Commonwealth Games. The first in 1998 when she was just 15 years old.
Katy, Could you tell me about how you got involved with swimming as a child? At what point did you realise or were you told that you had the ability to compete at the highest level?
Being a Pompey girl born and bred, my parents wanted my older sister and I to learn to swim because of where we lived. They wanted us to be safe in and around the water. It just happened to be something I took too naturally. I joined the local club, Portsmouth Northsea aged 6 and was told I had a natural feel for the water, and being long and lean was going to help too. I made my first junior team aged 13, which was when I knew it was something I really wanted to do.
What role did your parents play in your career?
My mum probably took the brunt of all of it! She was the one that would run me around to training sessions, deal with my tired moods and make sure I was well fed! Neither parents are massively sporty so it was something we all learnt about along the way. They have never pushed me into it and let me grow and develop at my own rate, which I am very grateful for. They have unconditionally supported me all the way in my career, helped picked me up after the lows and kept me grounded after the highs.
In such a successful career which achievement means the most to you?
Without a doubt it has to be becoming World Champion in 2003. In doing so I was the first GB female to win that honour.
Could you tell us about the Katy Sexton Swim Academy and how that idea came about?
It was an idea of my friend, Dean’s. He wanted to set it up and give me a focus for when swimming had finished. Initially I was a little sceptical as I didn’t have any experience of running a business, but it has been one of the best things I have done. It is such a rewarding job and I it is my way of giving back to a community that supported me through my career.
Competing at two Olympics is a huge honour in itself and I feel so proud to have made finals in both.
What advice would you give to parents who’s children are wanting to get involved in swimming competitively?
Find a good club and have trust in your coach. These are two things I was extremely fortunate to have. You get the so called ‘pushy parents’ out there, but in my opinion, they end up being more detrimental to the swimmer. Let them grow and develop at their own rate. And most importantly enjoy it!
It’s great to see that you have been able to remain working within swimming. It must be a great feeling being able to work doing something that you love. What do you miss the most about competing and what aspects were you glad to see the back of?
It is a great feeling and it’s where I have a depth of knowledge. I miss the feeling you get before a big competition, where training becomes less and you have energy in abundance. These are rare feelings as you are normally so tired all the time from pushing your body to the limit. I really do not miss the 5am starts!!
…Wandering around the Olympic village you see your sporting idols. I can remember seeing Muhammad Ali in Sydney and socialising with athletes that you are used to growing up watching on TV.
How did you feel when you first found out that you were to receive an MBE from the Queen and how did you find the experience of meeting her?
I received a letter a few months before it was announced, and it was quite hard to keep it a secret!! I was lucky that it was the Queen that presented me with my medal. She asked me how my swimming was going and congratulations for my swim in Barcelona. It was an amazing experience especially as I got to share it with my family.
Could you tell us more about your involvement with local charity Off The Record?
Off The Record is a charity supporting young people aged 11-25 who need a safe place to talk to someone. I became involved with Off The Record 5 years ago after having to have counselling myself. Taking the brave option of talking about it and trying to remove the stigma of mental health and depression gave me the strength to share my stories and encourage young people to seek help if they need and OTR does that so well in our community.
I know that you hadn’t fully retired and had been competing at the Masters, is this something that you still compete in and how does it differ from other competitions you’ve competed in?
I recently competed in the European masters in London, at the Olympic aquatic centre. Not only was it an amazing experience but I got to enjoy the meet for once, it was so much fun and a nice relaxed atmosphere! And 2 bronze medals were a bonus. I got told after that someone like me should’ve been winning gold and the bronze medals weren’t good enough, but swimming at a masters level is a different ball game for me. It is about the taking part now and enjoying what I do, rather than having the pressures and demands from competing on a bigger stage.
Could you tell us about the Sydney and Athens Olympics and how you found the whole experience?
Competing at an Olympics is a huge honour in itself and I feel so proud to have made finals in both. Sydney was the better experience for me. Athens came with too many pressures. You get to compete in front of thousands of people and collecting all the kit is an amazing day too. Wandering around the Olympic village you see your sporting idols. I can remember seeing Muhammad Ali in Sydney and socialising with athletes that you are used to growing up watching on TV. It’s a bit surreal and you kind of live in a bubble for the duration. Being there is something you have dreamt about for many years so to actually be there you have to keep pinching yourself to check it is real!
With plenty of swimming still to come at the Olympics do you have any tips on swimmers we should be looking out for?Swimmers to watch for the rest of the meet will be Ben Proud who has the 50 free final to come. Then we have both the medley relays which will be possible medal chances. With Peaty and Guy to watch in the men’s and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor and Chloe Tutton in the women’s they should be some good finals at the end of the swimming program. Jazz Carlin has the 800 free final to come and of course you can’t not watch Michael Phelps!
You can follow Katy and her further commentary of the Rio Olympics over on Twitter @K.