For Jack Burnell his 2017 season has opened up in the best possible way having beaten Olympic medallists to gold at the FINA World Cup in Abu Dhabi in March.
Burnell raced the perfect strategic line to come away a victor in his opening race of the new quadrennial.
“In the build up to the FINA World Cup I knew I’d had a lot of time out of the water but I also knew that I had trained really well when I’d been back in the water,” Burnell said. “I was coming off the back of an altitude camp that we did for three weeks in Mexico. That was a great kick starter for me because I was away from home with nothing but a swimming pool and a coach. It was all very intense and focused and that was kind of the make or break for me where I was either going to love it or hate it.
“I really threw myself into absolutely everything there was to do. I was fully engaged with it all which really changed my perspective on what I wanted to achieve and I felt as if I was moving forwards even at that early stage. Getting back from Mexico I knew I really had to get my head down because I didn’t have long before Abu Dhabi and then eventually Worlds.”
Burnell went into the race with a desire to be better than he had been before and get back onto the podium alongside the world’s best.
“I don’t really get nervous before I race but I think there was more an air of self-doubt rather than nervousness because of the lack of training and preparation compared to other years,” Burnell said.
“When you jump in to do a 10km there is nowhere to hide aerobically. If you have left a stone unturned then it will be found out during those two hours. The race is designed where no one can really hide in it and that is the worrying factor when you go in without the amount of training you would normally have done.
“In the lead in, me and Dave had spoken quite a lot about staying relaxed and very in the moment with it all. It was about taking it as it comes if something goes wrong then not to panic about it - let’s just deal with it. Fortunately, there was a very smooth run into the competition.”
In the race in Abu Dhabi Burnell faced up to Olympic Champion Ferry Weertman and Olympic bronze medallist Marc-Antoine Olivier.
“It was quite a tactical, brutal race. Everyone was really hurting towards the middle because the pack broke at 2-3km,” Burnell said. “I made a tactical decision to bridge that gap because the Olympic bronze medallist was in that pack and he was too dangerous to not chase. I made a lot of key decisions throughout the race which benefitted me. There was a second break away and I bridged that too which put me in a very good position for the finish.
“I knew throughout the race that I was putting myself at risk by closing the gaps because I was using a lot of energy but I also knew that it was what I had to do to win the race.
“I was quite confident I had made the right decisions and when we got to the last 200-300m I knew I was in a great position to win the race. It came down to a sprint finish as we moved to the finish. It was amazing to come back and win my first race after the disappointment of the Olympics. I do believe though that I have turned a negative into a positive to motivate me.”
The next stop for Burnell and the Marathon Swimming squad is the US Nationals at the Castaic Lake in La where they will face American’s finest athletes.
“We’re in LA for the Nationals which will act as part of our trials for the World Championships,” Burnell said. “It’s 10km and it’ll be a good race for me because in Abu Dhabi everyone from the Olympics was there apart from the Americans.
“To swim against Jordan Wilimovsky will be a good test for me. He obviously won Worlds in 2015, he broke out quickly in Kazan and he’s got a lot of speed because of his 1500m skills. It’ll also be a good test to see if I can back up what happened in Abu Dhabi and keep moving forward.
“Moving forwards to the World Championships and then the Tokyo Olympics, I’ve learnt lessons that will stand me in good stead as I have put what happened in Rio behind me but it’s given me the fire in training to be better.”