It’s not often that you get to train with three-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer and a five-time World record holder. But that’s soon going to be a reality as former Australian swimming ace Stephanie Rice is set to open the Stephanie Rice Swim Academy in India.
The revenue for the academy is still not finalised; she is slated to meet sponsors and partners over the next week. Through the academy, Rice hopes to see one of her Indian wards making a podium finish in the 2028 Olympics.
The 31-year-old spoke to Sportstar on a range of issues during an exclusive interaction.
Is there any particular reason behind launching your academy in India?
I love the country so much. When I was swimming, I had so much support from the Indian press. When social media came in, I got so much support from India. I could not understand where this was coming from, I had never competed in India, I am neither from India nor do I have Indian heritage. After retiring, I decided to come to India and see what this is and if this is real. Then I was given the role to do the Olympic coverage for India (in 2016) and that gave me an exposure and understanding about the current level of swimming in the country and witness people like P.V. Sindhu or Dipa Karmakar breaking through.
Having done the commentary stint with Pro Kabaddi League, I had a better understanding. Living here for four-five months, watching the coaching programmes, talking to current swimmers gave me a better understanding. I could have taken my swimming academy anywhere in the world and it would do well. But I want to do it in India because I feel it’s a country I love and also it has the market where I can make biggest impact and have biggest growth. If I did it in Australia, there are so many other programmes. This is something I can give back to the sport. That feels meaningful.
“There are a lot of amazing swimmers in India right now. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t train in India. They train in the US and Thailand. I would love to bring those athletes back home at the Stephanie Rice Swimming Academy. I would like to have them trained under high-level coaches in India.” — Stephanie Rice
There was a time when it took ages to create world records. But nowadays, the records tumble too often. Is swimming getting easier as a sport?
A sport is going to evolve and evolve and the records will be broken. All of my world records — which I had broken over the time — have now been broken by someone else. The sport is always going to get faster and faster and that’s because of a number of things — the high level coaching, recovery, nutrition. You have super technology going into equipments. It’s only going to get faster.
What are your thoughts on Indian swimmers?
There are a lot of amazing swimmers in India right now. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t train in India. They train in the US and Thailand. I would love to bring those athletes back home at the Stephanie Rice Swimming Academy. I would like to have them trained under high-level coaches in India. Some of them I have spoken to — through social media or seminars, they really want to understand all the components that go into high performance. Of course, a key part of it is coaching and I think I can help them with that. Also help them with nutrition and other components. I want to hit all those components in the academy and have somebody take care of all those things.
Doping has again risen its ugly head. What are your thoughts on the issue?
Doping is not a new concept. It’s been around for a long time and I think it’s getting better and better in terms of the amount of process and protocol that goes into it. There is always going to be phases in any sport where there might be controversy, suspicion — that happens in all sports. I think what’s really important is that in swimming, the doping process for me is very clear: it’s black or white. There are certain rules you have to adhere to, certain forms you have to fill out in order to be compliant. It’s quite simple, you have to be diligent. Be careful about everything you are taking, especially in supplement form, protein powders and stuff like that. It’s important to stick to the basics. You are training well, you are leading a healthy diet and are focusing on your recovery — that’s important.
What are your expectations from Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
I think there are going to be some exciting times in Tokyo 2020. Having a better understanding of the Australian contingent, I think there are going to be a lot of upcoming superstars. I am excited about the battle between Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus. The US will be really, really strong and they will outshine Australia.
What are India’s chances?
In terms of India, I think there are a couple of athletes who will go close to the semifinals. I don’t think they will make the semis, because if you look at US, Australia, China, Japan — they all are really strong. Tokyo is going to be a harder one but by 2024, especially if you are training at my academy, I am confident of producing someone who will at least reach the final. If not the final, in the next four years, they are going to be in top eight of the world. In 2028, if we get someone on the podium, that will be a dream come true!
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