Battle-hardened Hector Pardoe believes embracing the brutality of open water swimming by swapping Shropshire for Montpellier can help him make a medal-winning splash at Tokyo 2020, writes Will Jennings.
Whitchurch ace Pardoe was officially selected in Team GB’s marathon swimming squad after a searing swim in the Setubal qualifier last weekend booked a quota spot for Japan.
Precocious Pardoe, 20, will be joined at the Olympics by history-making Alice Dearing, who will become the first black female swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Games.
Shropshire star Pardoe embarked on a bold move to France in September 2019 after an underwhelming debut at the European Championships, where he now trains under the eagle-eyed auspices of elite coach Phillipe Lucas.
Lucas is renowned for his fierce and fiery reputation but Pardoe says he’s revelled in his ruthlessness ahead of booking his place on the plane.
Pardoe, who racks up a gruelling 90 kilometres in the water each week, said: “I went to my first European Championships at senior level in 2018 in Glasgow and got my arse kicked.
“I thought I had to step up my training, and training in a small, four-lane 25m pool at Ellesmere wasn’t going to help take me get to the next level.
“I had to find a 50m pool to train in with 25 plus-hours [a week] and all the right facilities. I wanted to go abroad, learn a new culture and language and live by myself.
“Phillipe has prestige for getting some of the best results. Although his coaching and tactics are very brutal, he does get the results.
“I sat down with my British coach at the time, had a chat about it and agreed it was the best move for me to make.
“Phillipe’s intolerance to laziness, his attitude, how harsh he can be [is what makes him brutal]. He doesn’t care what he says to you, how you feel or if you’re upset.
“It’s not just about strengthening your body physically and increasing your heart capacity, it’s about your mindset and never showing weakness in training.
“Even if my body is completely dead and he gives us a big set that my body doesn’t want to do, if we show any form of weakness he gets really angry.”
Pardoe secured Team GB a quota spot in Japan by toppling compatriot Tobias Robinson and winning last weekend’s crucial 10km qualifying event in Portugal.
He won that race with a scintillating late surge and just five days later, was officially selected as Britain’s male representative in Tokyo.
Pardoe’s rise in the water has seen him claim a pair of top ten finishes at the FINA Marathon Swim World Series event in Doha over the last two years.
Taking a step into the unknown is front and centre of open water swimming and Pardoe admits he still gets the jitters about what’s underneath the surface.
Adrenaline keeps him going during the big races but reflecting on his journey, he laughed: “If I was just swimming recreationally in the sea, I’m still scared of jellyfish!
“But when I’m in an open water race and I’ve got so much adrenaline, I never really think about it.
“When I got selected I was overwhelmed by messages and a boy who I used to train with sent me a photo of us when we were on a training camp in Slovenia when we were about 12 years old.
“He reminded me of when we went swimming in the sea and how I was scared of the jellyfish and couldn’t even put my face in.
“We were talking about how far I’d come from not even wanting to swim in the sea, to qualifying for the two hour race in the sea at the Olympics.”
Pardoe says he’s loving life in France and remains committed to remaining in Montpellier for at least the next year.
Lockdown restrictions have made the past 12 months difficult for everyone but Pardoe says immersing himself in the culture has helped him navigate his way through.
“I’ve got a French girlfriend who’s really helped me, and any words I struggle with she helps with.
“The siestas and everything closing 8pm, when I was used to the luxury of 24-hour supermarkets, took some getting used to. But I’m planning on staying there next year and will then making a decision on it next year.
“It feels even more of an achievement [to qualify to Tokyo] after having to stay focused and keep the goal the same during the pandemic and I’m really, really proud.”
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