London will be a feeling I'll never forget

20 Jul 2020

We are turning back the clock to relive the careers of some of Britain's aquatics sport heroes of recent times in our Splashbacks feature - with the help of the stars themselves.

From wanting to copy everything her older sister did, to captaining the artistic swimming team at London 2012 - Jenna Randall reflects on the defining moments of a journey to becoming a double Olympian and three-time Commonwealth silver medallist.

Having been taken to swimming lessons with her siblings from birth, Randall notes that starting off in synchro at the age of six was borne out of admiration for her older sister.

"I just loved being in the water. My older sister Tia had joined the club, Rushmoor, and I wanted to do everything she did at that time, so I begged my parents to join. I was too young for the joining age, but I was naturally a strong swimmer and passed all the entrance tests, so they had to let me in!"

Progressing up through the age groups, Randall shared the honours when awarded the esteemed Shacklock trophy in 2004. However, it was the following year that would be pivotal to inspiring future success.

"I remember watching the 2005 Montreal World Championships with my family. Virginie Dedieu’s Free Solo was mind blowing, graceful and just so beautiful to me, and I knew from that moment on I wanted to swim like her on the world stage. 

"I never thought I would make it to the Olympics, but my dreams came true when we won the London 2012 Olympic bid and our federation was granted enough funding to help us train full-time with top coach Biz Price. If it weren’t for the funding and Biz, I would have never made it to that Olympic pool in 2008 and 2012."

Jenna Randall Melbourne cwg 2006
Randall claimed a solo silver at Melbourne 2006

What followed shortly after was a breakthrough on the international stage, as aged just 17, Jenna took home a silver medal for her Solo routine at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

"I remember being very, very nervous. It was my first ever big senior competition, and it was very intimidating competing against some of the best in the world," she added. 

"I hadn’t had a lot of experience competing in world events like that before, and unfortunately back then, prior to the London Olympic funding, artistic swimming in Britain wasn’t given a lot of support financially to support the amount of training it needed to take, and the number of international competitions you need to do to progress in the world of synchro. But the support from my coach at the time - Adele Carlsen - and my teammates Olivia Federici and Lauren Smith was all the motivation I needed to put on my best silver-medal performance."

A second medal in Melbourne just evaded her in the Duet event, contested with Federici, but the pairing - which became Great Britain's first Olympic representation in the sport for 16 years at Beijing 2008 - became like family.

"My duet partnership with Olive (Olivia Federici) was like swimming with my little sister, we were together 14-16 hours of the day, six days a week - she was and still is family to me. Olive was always the one calming me down when I was nervous, dealing with my perfectionist personality on a daily basis, and laughing with me on those really tough training days. We swam as a duet for eight years and she was honestly the best duet partner I’ve ever had.

"We were both very dedicated to what we wanted to achieve, and we worked hard every day to make our routines the best we could. Biz Price was a huge part of our duet success, she guided and moulded us into better athletes, as we improved from 14th in the world at the Beijing Olympics, to the silver medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Winning that silver in Delhi was so satisfying. Knowing we just missed out on the bronze in 2006, we were determined to get on that podium, and it was also even sweeter for me because my little sister, Asha Randall, was there as our duet reserve."

Federici and Randall 2010 cwg
Randall and Federici took home a duet silver from Delhi 2010

A repeat of her Solo result from four years earlier meant Randall certainly left Delhi in 2010 with plenty of silver linings - and the hard work continued as she geared up for a home Olympics as captain of the GB Synchro team.

"I am so proud of my team at the 2012 London Olympics, they trusted me as their captain and left everything they had in that pool, the day we swam our team routines. We had all been training together full-time since 2007, training six days a week, up to 10 plus hours a day, we were determined, and hungry for improvement. I’m not going to lie, a team of 10 girls together for that long can have its downs sometimes, but we bonded in a way I hope everyone gets to experience in their life. You could say we became closer than family."

Family was close at hand, though, with artistic swimming somewhat part of the Randall DNA, as Jenna's younger sister was also a member of the London team.

"To have my youngest sister, Basha (Asha Randall) swim with me at the London Olympics, brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. To experience an Olympics, an event only a small percentage of people actually get to go and compete in, but doing it with my sister, is something I will never, ever forget. God blessed our family with some great synchro genes, that's for sure!

Randall London 2012 team
Britain finished 6th in the team competition at London 2012

"I have so many great memories of the team though and our long training camps in Malta, away from home for weeks, making each other laugh on tough training days, motivating each other before we would do the fourth full swim through of our routines in a row. But the best memory I have would be Olive and I sleeping through our alarm on our Duet Free Final Olympic competition day in London, and our team mate Katie Skelton coming into our room trying to calmly wake us up whilst panicking because we had slept through our pool training time and our coach couldn’t get hold of us! I laugh about it now, but I think Olive and I both had our first heart attack that day!"

However, there was no chance of falling asleep during the competition, as the triple Commonwealth silver medallist describes her second Olympic outing and the sheer noise of the London crowd.

"Beijing was my first Olympics. I was young and hadn’t been competing at the senior world level for very long. It was very intimidating and stressful for me. But London was a totally different experience, we were more confident as a team, we had been around the world stage more and people were looking at us with more respect," she recalled. 

"The crowd that supported us in London will be a feeling I will never forget, the sound of the whole venue erupting when Olive and I walked out to swim our Duet Tech, the first event of the games, was just insane! I couldn’t even hear myself say to Olive, “ready?” I remember my parents saying after that they were worried because they could see my body just push back from the noise. It was so crazy and so awesome, I wish every competition in Synchro could get that amount of support and love."

Randall Federici
Federici and Randall embrace on the pool deck after competing at London 2012

The momentum of London (ninth in the duet with Federici and sixth in the team event) carried through to the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona where Jenna and Olivia together achieved a career-high ranking of eighth in the world. That proved to be Randall's competitive swansong after the best part of a decade on the international scene.

"I felt it was a good career point for me to retire and move on. We had spent the year training with Masayo Imura, who is the 'mother of synchro'. She is so knowledgeable and excellent in coaching an athlete to be more efficient in the water, she really grew Olivia and I into better swimmers and duet partners, and I’m so grateful I got to swim for her before I said goodbye to the synchro stage. 

"My body at that point was telling me it had had enough, I had surgery at the beginning of 2013 on the left wrist to fix an injury I had before the London Games, my hips were starting to bother me quite a bit and mentally I was exhausted. Training to a very intense level for six years was about all I could take. I had always had Cirque Du Soleil ‘O’ in the back of my mind and thought this was the perfect time for me to go into the circus and explore my creative side."

Jenna Randall 2013 WC
A career high 8th in the world at the 2013 World Championships

Fast forward to the present day and Jenna admits she doesn't keep as close an eye on the artistic swimming world as she once did, but with good excuse as her 10-month-old daughter keeps her very busy. Glimpses of the duo Kate Shortman and Izzy Thorpe, who were awarded an Olympic solidarity grant last year, have impressed the former two-time Olympian.

"I do occasionally see the progress of Kate and Izzy on social media. I think they are great swimmers and are making amazing progress in the world rankings - definitely reminding me of a young OJ (Olive & Jenna) as our team would call us. It’s amazing to see the British team still fighting and training hard, and I really hope the Team GB Synchro funding support can get back to how it was when we, the London 2012 team, were training, it really makes all the difference, and I think our past improvements prove that."