Swim­mer Made­line Groves has all the mo­ti­va­tion she needs for the Comm Games, at home on the Gold Coast. Plus: our snap­shot of GC2018.

Inside Sport - - Contents - BY JAMES SMITH

In March last year Made­line Groves, one of Aus­tralia’s most promis­ing young swim­mers, was hang­ing out in her dorm room at San Diego Univer­sity. The but­ter­fly star was stay­ing on cam­pus while she trained with a large group of ath­letes from the Amer­i­can na­tional swim team. She was hav­ing a blast, pick­ing up valu­able knowl­edge from her peers, and util­is­ing the know-how of some of the best coaches in world swim­ming.

She was re­quired to be on premises at the pre-ar­ranged time she had en­tered into the Where­abouts app – un­der the rules of in­ter­na­tional swim­ming fed­er­a­tion FINA, swim­mers must nom­i­nate an hour of ev­ery sin­gle day when and where they’ll be avail­able for ran­dom drug test­ing. The au­thor­i­ties must know that some­times life hap­pens, and that not all ath­letes can be in their nom­i­nated ar­eas at said nom­i­nated times. So if testers from the World Anti-Dop­ing Au­thor­ity turn up to a lo­ca­tion at the agreed time and the ath­lete isn’t there, they re­ceive a strike. Then an­other one next time. Third strike within 12 months and it’s an au­to­matic two-year ban from com­pe­ti­tion world-wide.

Sit­ting on two strikes, Groves, the 200m but­ter­fly sil­ver-medal­list from the Rio Olympic Games, was wait­ing in po­si­tion. Nom­i­nat­ing a time doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the testers will turn up, but af­ter a while she’d heard noth­ing and got on with the rest of her life, which was be­ing dom­i­nated by her prepa­ra­tions for the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games.

While she waited pa­tiently in her dorm room, in the carpark of Groves’

ac­com­mo­da­tion quar­ters hov­ered the testers. They waited there for a while and then left, fir­ing off a piece of pa­per­work shortly af­ter­wards that would rock Groves’s world.

“It was very stress­ful when it all hap­pened,” she gra­ciously shares with In­side Sport, with the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games just a few weeks away. “I’d made this de­ci­sion to go to the US. It was this big, ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for me. About three weeks into it is when I got this email say­ing that the week be­fore­hand or what­ever it was, I had missed a drug test.

“I had no idea what was go­ing on. It was con­fus­ing at the time, but thank­fully I had a re­ally good sup­port net­work around me and we were able to get on our feet quickly and get on top of it.

“As well as train­ing in San Diego, I was also work­ing out of Char­lotte in North Carolina with David Marsh and his elite club SwimMAC. So thank­fully I did al­ready have some friends over there, so I wasn’t com­pletely alone through it all. It was quite a nice dis­trac­tion to be over there. I had things to do ev­ery day and a whole bunch of new peo­ple to be­friend and train with and ev­ery­thing. So even though I did have this stress­ful thing go­ing on in the back of my mind, I still felt like I had a re­ally good time last year. I re­ally got a lot out of it.”

That sup­port net­work Groves speaks of in­cluded ex­pe­ri­enced Aus­tralian sports lawyer Tim Fuller, who opined to the me­dia in the days af­ter Groves’ breach no­tice that the refs may have been watch­ing over Aus­tralian swim­mers a lit­tle too un­fairly fol­low­ing our ath­letes’ stance on drug cheats in the re­cent past. (In 2006, swim­mer Mack Horton was the tar­get of on­line abuse af­ter tak­ing home the gold medal in the men’s 400m freestyle fi­nal over com­ments he made call­ing Chi­nese run­ner-up Sun Yang a “drug cheat”.)

“I would sug­gest that the test­ing au­thor­i­ties should try harder; they waited for a lit­tle un­der an hour be­fore tak­ing off,” Fuller told Seven News Bris­bane fol­low­ing Groves’ breach no­tice. Along with Groves, drug testers also recorded third and fi­nal strikes against her Dol­phins com­pa­tri­ots Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Jar­rod Poort. Fraser-Holmes stayed at din­ner with his par­ents ten min­utes too long and was even­tu­ally sus­pended for a year, as was Poort. Nei­ther swim­mer will ap­pear at the 2018 Comms.

“FINA have strate­gi­cally tar­geted Aus­tralian ath­letes for sit­ting on two strikes, and yet there are ath­letes out there who are, as we all know, cheat­ing the sys­tem,” said Fuller dur­ing the TV news re­port. “It just seems un­usual they’re us­ing tech­ni­cal breaches to come af­ter Aus­tralian swim­mers.”

Fol­low­ing breach no­tice an­nounce­ments, drug test­ing au­thor­i­ties are rarely in a hurry to de­cide on penal­ties for vi­o­la­tions, and Groves’ case was no dif­fer­ent. Nor was it any less phys­i­cally and men­tally drain­ing than for any other ath­lete des­per­ate to clear their name over a pos­si­ble rule breach. “I had no idea they even tried to come to the fa­cil­ity,” Groves shares to­day. “At times I felt com­pletely fine, be­cause I knew I had done noth­ing wrong, and I ex­pected to get off. But then that kind of doubt can creep up on you. The whole process took about eight months; there was cer­tainly time dur­ing it


all to over-think. I wanted to pre­pare my­self as well. You don’t want to be go­ing into th­ese sit­u­a­tions blindly. I felt I had a very con­fi­dent plan go­ing for­ward. I guess that’s what kept me calm. And then ob­vi­ously that huge re­lief at the end when it did go my way.”

In­deed it did. Via a video-link ses­sion in Oc­to­ber last year, Groves spoke con­fi­dently along­side Fuller, chal­leng­ing the va­lid­ity of that third strike. They ar­gued that Groves was in the des­ig­nated time and place, and that the WADA testers, once at her San Diego Univer­sity cam­pus, failed to do enough to lo­cate her.

FINA agreed, with Groves given the all-clear, but re­main­ing on two strikes un­til Novem­ber 2017. In any case, it meant she could fi­nally kick-start her ca­reer free of im­pend­ing po­ten­tial doom.

There’s mas­sive in­ter­est in the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games from Gold Coast lo­cals, in­ter­state vis­i­tors and over­seas trav­ellers alike. We’re talk­ing State of Ori­gin com­bined with the AFL Grand Fi­nal, on top of the open­ing day of the Aus­tralian Ten­nis Open as far as spec­ta­tor in­ter­est and event size is con­cerned. The Courier-Mail news­pa­per back in Novem­ber last year re­ported that 900,000 of the 1.2 mil­lion tick­ets on of­fer for the Games had al­ready been sold.

Sure, some of them had had the wrong date printed on them, but Games chair, for­mer state premier and brand-new Aus­tralian Rugby League Com­mis­sion chief Pe­ter Beat­tie, promised Queens­lan­ders were in­tel­li­gent enough to work out that their ticket will gain them en­try to their rel­e­vant event in any case.

“GC2018” – for so­cial me­dia and promo pur­poses – will fea­ture the largest in­te­grated sports pro­gram in Com­mon­wealth Games his­tory, com­pris­ing 18 sports and seven para-sports. Beach vol­ley­ball, para triathlon and women’s rugby sevens will make their Com­mon­wealth Games de­buts. And for the first time at a Comms, an equal num­ber of men’s and women’s medal events will be con­tested. There’s his­tory be­ing made even be­fore a hockey ball is hit, or some­one falls over in that weird steeple­chase pool.

Our ath­letes are go­ing to – again – waltz away to a truck­load of medals. Since the Comms be­gan way back in 1931, Aus­tralian has owned them, claim­ing 852 gold, 716 sil­ver and 650 bronze for an im­pres­sive col­lec­tive haul of 2,218 medals. You’ll be knocked over with a feather to learn that swim­ming has proven our most happy hunt­ing ground, where we’ve scored 558 medals. We’ve also claimed 406 in ath­let­ics over the years.

We’ve proven great and en­thu­si­as­tic hosts of this event, too, with the GC to be the fifth time we’ve in­vited the ex­tended em­pire fam­ily over, fol­low­ing pre­vi­ous gath­er­ings at Mel­bourne (2006), Bris­bane (1982), Perth (’62) and Syd­ney, back in 1938.

Groves’ own last hit-out at a ma­jor meet should have Aussie swim fans pumped ahead of GC2018. Qual­i­fy­ing fastest for the big dance at Rio, she swam a PB to be­come the ninth Aussie to score an Olympic medal in the 200m women’s but­ter­fly. Set­ting the pace for the field through the first half of the race, Groves led Mireia Bel­monte Gar­cia by al­most a full sec­ond af­ter 50m, but the Spa­niard took the lead with a lap re­main­ing. Gar­cia ap­peared to be tir­ing, but she found re­newed en­ergy in the fi­nal 50m, pip­ping

Groves by 0.03 sec­onds in a blan­ket fin­ish. An­other sil­ver in the 4x100m med­ley re­lay topped off an awe­some meet for the first­time Olympian.

“I was just re­ally, re­ally ex­cited … it was like my wed­ding day,” re­calls Groves, who will turn 23 shortly af­ter the 2018 Games. “I’m here, I’ve done all this prepa­ra­tion for it. Ev­ery­one was there. I just re­mem­ber feel­ing re­ally ex­cited. I was swim­ming good, I knew I’d done the work. I knew it didn’t mat­ter if I felt good: I was fit enough, and it was go­ing to be a good race be­tween my­self and Mireia. You can never rule out any­one in an Olympic fi­nal, re­ally; you can’t un­der­es­ti­mate any­one. But I was happy to be in the mid­dle lane next to her and I think it was a re­ally good fight.”

Groves brings up a good point when de­scrib­ing just how much of an ad­van­tage a home Games of­fers the lo­cals. It isn’t all about just com­pet­ing on fa­mil­iar turf, there’s loads of other stuff our Aussie ath­letes won’t have to worry about this time around. “We’ve been down here full-time since Oc­to­ber. The big­gest ad­van­tage we’ll have at the Com­mon­wealth Games is that it will be an ac­tual home games,” she beams. “Ev­ery meet – Olympics, Com­mon­wealth Games – for the home coun­try it re­ally is an ad­van­tage hav­ing your own crowd there. The sup­port that you get, the cheer­ing, the at­mos­phere, it’s amaz­ing. It re­ally makes you lift to that next level know­ing that the peo­ple are cheer­ing for you and cheer­ing for Aus­tralia.

“I drive 20 min­utes to the pool. I don’t have to even worry about hav­ing travel days. This is an es­pe­cially big thing for us Aussie swim­mers; we’re used to trav­el­ling far for big meets. We usu­ally have to deal with very long flights; over to Europe or wher­ever.

“This time ev­ery­one else is go­ing to be go­ing through all that. And it will be a lot hot­ter than Great Bri­tain at this time of year, where a lot of our ri­vals will be com­ing from. The Gold Coast will be a big change for them.” We’ll be look­ing for any ad­van­tage over the Poms we can get at our lat­est home Games –Eng­land bet­tered us by nine gold at the last event in Glas­gow in 2014.

Made­line Groves has an in­ter­est­ing take on the whole “why swim but­ter­fly?” ques­tion. The new­est of the swim­ming dis­ci­plines, it was first swam by Aus­tralian Syd­ney Cav­ill (son of “swim­ming pro­fes­sor” Fred­er­ick Cav­ill), the 220 yards am­a­teur cham­pion of Aus­tralia at the age of 16. Since then, the most gru­elling swim style on the pro­gram has only been at­tempted by the strong­est com­peti­tors com­mit­ted enough to per­fect­ing its phys­i­cally daunt­ing tech­nique. A first-time Olympian at Rio 2016, Groves has pre­vi­ously de­scribed the third lap of the 200m but­ter­fly as “swim­ming with the grand pi­ano on your back”.

“I guess the 200m but­ter­fly is more an event that picks you, more than you pick it,” she of­fers when asked why she chose it as the ma­jor bow in her swim­ming ar­tillery. “You have to have the very flex­i­ble shoul­ders and kinda the nack for it, I guess. Not ev­ery­one is good at but­ter­fly.

“I think a lot of it has to do with my flex­i­bil­ity, but also my ef­fi­ciency, ba­si­cally. Be­ing able to swim but­ter­fly is hard. But the


more ef­fi­cient you can do it and the more mo­men­tum you’re able to main­tain, the eas­ier it is on you. You have to do the hard work as well.

“All the dif­fer­ent strokes, even be­tween events, you have to do spe­cific work; for the 200m but­ter­fly usu­ally that just means do­ing … quite a lot of but­ter­fly. You can do spe­cial dry­land ex­er­cises, do things like pi­lates and what­ever, but at the end of the day you have to be in there do­ing those laps and laps of but­ter­fly, and be will­ing to do it.

"It’s al­ways been my favourite stroke; even when I was younger. I’ve al­ways been pretty good at it. You al­ways en­joy the things you’re good at. I like that it’s a dif­fi­cult event. I like that not many peo­ple feel like they can do it. Do­ing a lot of but­ter­fly train­ing makes you feel pretty tough some­times! My shoul­ders and arms have had a lot of main­te­nance; it’s taken a lot to look af­ter them.”

To­wards the end of last year Groves made the move from her life-long In­dooroop­illy home base to the Gold Coast. With her long­time coach Michael Bohl also hav­ing moved down to the Grif­fith Univer­sity HQ ahead of the Comms, all is in place for a se­ri­ous as­sault on the 200m but­ter­fly.

“He’s a fan­tas­tic coach, ob­vi­ously,” Groves beams about her men­tor. “I’ve been lucky to have known him for a very long time. He just un­der­stands how to get the best out of me and how to en­cour­age me; finds the right words to say. We’ve sur­vived very hard ses­sions in the pool; I know that we’ve done the work for it, but some­times it’s the ad­vice and the pre-game talk he gives us that gets you ex­cited and makes you feel ready to race.”

A strong all-round swim­mer, Groves does have ca­reer op­tions when it comes to the var­i­ous dis­ci­plines. The re­lay medal in Rio is proof of that. For th­ese Comm Games though she’ll be fo­cussing on but­ter­fly, a de­ci­sion brought about by the rapid-fire flavour of Aus­tralia’s se­lec­tion tri­als. “I still feel like I have a lot to achieve in the but­ter­fly events,” says Groves. “I still have a lot to go in im­prov­ing my freestyle, too. It’s al­ways so com­pet­i­tive try­ing to get into those re­lays; I’d pre­fer to try and push my­self in the but­ter­fly than kind of risk scrap­ing onto a re­lay team for the freestyle.”

Hav­ing sur­vived that weird close call with WADA, Groves doesn’t ap­pear to be afraid of too much. You can even throw the New Madame But­ter­fly tag at her; she’s not afraid of liv­ing up to it. (She has al­ready bet­tered a record pre­vi­ously held by the le­gendary Susie O’Neill, so she’s on her way.) The sim­i­lar­ity ex­cites her.

This isn’t ar­ro­gance. She’d be fun to have around camp. Your au­thor stumped upon a video on YouTube posted by the Aussie swim team. It was Mad­die be­ing in­ter­viewed in a café a few years back – one of those cute, dorky “get­ting-to-know” episodes. She had fun with it. Cam­era loved her: that big, nat­u­ral smile and warm blue eyes. She nom­i­nated her dop­pel­ganger as su­per­model Naomi Camp­bell in that in­ter­view, and po­lar bears as her favourite of the an­i­mal world, even though they’d kill her if she was around them … You know, stuff like that.

“It def­i­nitely helps to have a sense of hu­mour when you’re in a very com­pet­i­tive sport,” she shares. “It’s al­ways good to lighten the mood, es­pe­cially at train­ing ev­ery day, you know?"

Groves and Mireia Bel­monte Gar­cia go ham­mer and tong in the 200m fly fi­nal at Rio 2016.

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