- Swimmer from
- 1984 Olympic double gold medalist in 200 IM and 400 IM
- Stepping down from post at Swimming Australia due to health concerns in August 2021. https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/alex-baumann-stepping-down-as-chief-executive-of-swimming-australia-due-to-health-reasons/
My first goal for the Olympics was to win two gold medals in both my events, the 200 and 400 I.M. The secondary goal was the world record, to show that I was the best in the world, mainly because the Eastern Bloc was not there. But I did not really worry about a world record, all I wanted to do was win because twenty years down the road, nobody will remember if I had broken the record or not.
I felt physically ready for the Olympics. The training, and taper, and the times I was swimming indicated that I was ready. I was also ready mentally. I knew I was ready, but there are always doubts before a race. There is always that question of whether I can do it or not. In the first race I think if I had loosened up, not being as tense, maybe I could have gone faster. For the second race, everything was fine, everything was ready and I do not think I could have been better. After I won the gold medal, I had accomplished one goal, and it was very easy, in essence the pressure was off.
There was a tremendous amount of pressure on me, especially in the first event, because everybody expected me to win, and everybody expected me to break the world record. That was a lot of additional pressure which I did not really need. But then it was the Olympics so obviously you are going to have a lot of pressure. The pressure came from Canada in general, and then from the whole Canadian team. They expected me to win, just because I had the world record, and I had qualified first, going into the final, breaking the existing Olympic record.
I felt really good in the morning, and my split times in the training and warm-up just before the 400 I.M. were really good. I did not swim hard in the morning, and of course I was 5 seconds off my best time. My heart was pounding because of the pressure and I was unable to sleep between heats and finals. Then at night, I felt terrible in the water. I thought, "Here goes eleven years of work, and here I come and get a silver medal." 1 really wondered if I could ever win feeling that bad.
I knew that I could win if everything went well, but I felt terrible going into the warm-up. That's a terrible feeling because you feel off and your warm-up times show it. You do a couple of 50's and they are half a second slower than in the morning. I think that really scared me. I didn't really mention anything, but my coach knew. I received a rubdown and went in the water again in an outside practice pool on our way back, about 20 minutes before my race. I tried to work on stroke technique. Ijust had to loosen up. I was tense because there was a lot of pressure and I could not sleep in the afternoon. I felt much better after loosening up in the water, and my confidence returned.
The day of the 400 IM was not the best day for me, even though I did break my world record and won a gold medal. In retrospect I do not think that I could have done better than I did on that given day. Now I look back at the tapes, I have seen them 20 times, and I criticize them a little bit more, because I have to, because I want to get better. I think I can go faster.
Sometimes in the past I've felt terrible but on those occasions I've told myself, "If I can do well and beat those people when I feel bad, imagine how well I will do if I'm feeling good." I try to perform the best I can even under the worst conditions.
Working at being consistent has helped me. The thing that marks a true champion is consistency. I've definitely worked on that, day in and day out. No matter how I feel, I try to put in one hundred percent. That has helped me over the years. It is not very often I go off my best time when I am tapered and shaved. Tapered means that I am totally rested, coming down from seventeen km per day to about 3 km per day, right before the meet. Shaved means that my whole body is shaved in order to have greater sensitivity to the water.
Confidence is very important in swimming. Once you lose your confidence it is very hard to perform well. You get into the race and you swim the first fifty metres, and then somebody takes off on you, and you say, "Well, that is it, I cannot catch up." You develop confidence by training well, doing well at meets, improving your times and by winning. You just have to feel good about yourself, and feel that what you have done is a big accomplishment. Normally I am always confident, and I feel that I can do whatever split times I have set out to do.
I think I train quite differently from other Canadian swimmers. My coach, Jeno Tihanyi, has a very scientific approach to training that has helped me a lot in the past 10 years that I have been with him. To keep pushing through all that training, what works for me is setting small goals for myself. Rather than focusing on a long-range goal, like winning the Olympics, I set my goals on trying to improve a time, or trying to improve a part of the race. I concentrate on improving in small ways, rather than improving by large amounts. After attaining each goal, I feel totally satisfied and I can go on to another goal. Some swimmers have a problem with this. For example, in 1978 they may be looking only at the 1984 Games. You can't do that, because you have so much time. Those six years of training for one big goal can lead to a lack of satisfaction and a lot of frustration. Setting small, short-term goals, has really helped me. Ijust take it one day at a time rather than saying, I have to train another 20,000 metres tomorrow and after that, and after that. You just have to take it one day at a time and think about that.
I always have a certain performance goal to strive for. My coach and I are always putting together split times for the race, and we try to go for that. You have to be realistic about your times and what you want to do. You can't set goals for yourself which are totally ridiculous. I think knowing that I can do those splits has helped me a lot.
My coach helped me gain the confidence to do certain times. He writes up the splits and asks me if I can do them. I say, "Yes, maybe I can." Breaking up the race into splits helps me a lot. He pushes me a lot, and I think I need that to reach my one hundred percent potential. He is never over-reaching. He always puts down splits that he believes I can do. They are not far out of my reach.
The best way I have learned to prepare mentally for competitions is to visualize the race in my mind, and to put down a split time. The splits I use in my imagery are determined by my coach and myself, for each part of the race. For example, in the 200 individual medley, splits are made up for each 5Om because after 50 metres the stroke changes. These splits are based on training times and what we feel I'm capable of doing. In my imagery I concentrate on attaining the splits I have set out to do. About 15 minutes before the race I always visualize the race in my mind and "see" how it will go. I see where everybody else is, and then I really focus on myself. I do not worry about anybody else. I think about my own race and nothing else. I try to get those splits in my mind, and after that I am ready to go. I think a lot of swimmers don't visualize a race, and don't visualize what they really want to do.
I started visualizing in 1978. My visualization has been refined more and more as the years go on. That is what really got me the world record and the Olympic medals. I see myself swimming the race before the race really happens, and I try to be on the splits. You really know if you are on the splits by that time because you have spent so much time training on different kinds of strategies, so you know what time you are actually going, without the clock being there. You are really swimming the race. You are visualizing it from behind the block. In my mind, I go up and down the pool, rehearsing all parts of the race, visualizing how I actually feel in the water.
In 1979 I trained with Graham Smith, then world record holder in the 200 IM. That experience helped me because he was the world's best. Obviously what he was doing must be right. I think that a lot of young swimmers can learn a great deal from the experience of top Canadian swimmers.
A big thing that helped me deal with a lot of pressure at the Olympics, with Canada expecting me to win, was asking myself, "Who am I doing this for?" I answered, "I am doing this for myself because I put in one hundred percent for 6 hours a day. So I am just going out there to do my best. That is all I can do. I am not going to worry about anything else." Before I asked myself that question I had started to think, "This is the Olympics but this is crazy." From that point on I was really focused in on what I had to do. I did not look at anybody else; I did not want to look at anybody else. A lot of athletes have a problem because we are put in a tent, with 8 finalists. Everybody is trying to psych each other; they are staring at each other. I keep away from that. I do not like looking at people. I just keep to myself and I think of the race that I'm going to race. Of course the adrenalin is starting to pump now and there is a lot of tension and I am feeling nervous, but that is to be expected. The best thing for me is not to look at anybody else. I just try to generate a lot of confidence for myself, and say, "You can do it," rather than looking at somebody and wondering what he is going to do.
Some people screen out unwanted things by listening to music. I just block into myself, block out everything around me, and just concentrate on what I have to do.
During the event I focus on my race and my pace. The 400 is a strategic race; if you go out too fast you may lose because you do not have enough strength left towards the end. You have to pace it very well. A lot of mistakes are made because somebody goes out too fast in the first 200. You can generally tell what kind of time you are doing. You know exactly what the other swimmers' splits are, so if you are ahead or a little behind, you know where you are going. Normally you can guess what you are doing. In the Olympics, I saw the time up on the board at the 200. It was 2:04.6. After that I knew I was on pace for a world record.
Between heats and finals I ate a big meal. Then I lay down and just rested and thought about what went wrong in the morning and what I could do better from the morning swim going into the night swim.
I try not to think about swimming 24 hours a day, but I have to think about it quite a bit. Once I have thought about what I should concentrate on doing, I can go to sleep and not worry for a while. When I get up I am thinking about the race, subconsciously or consciously.
One change that would help Canadian swimmers would be to gain the confidence that they can do it. I think a lot of Canadian athletes feel inferior to the U.S., the East Germans, the Russians or whoever. To win, I think they just have to feel confident. We have not had that confidence for a long time. 1984 was the first time we thought we could win, and we did win. Canadian athletes had a lot more confidence within themselves. They didn't get up on the starting block and look to one side and see an American and say, "Oh gee, he is going to beat me again." I think we are now getting up on the block and saying, "I can win." That can make all the difference.
After the Olympics, it was very anticlimatic. Where do you go after two Olympic golds and two new world records? When I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the pool to do 10,000 metres, I was saying, "Why am I doing this, I really cannot do anything more?" It took a long time, about 4 months, to reassess my goals and get back into swimming. I want to compete in the World Championships in 1986 and try to win there. That is my next goal. I know a number of other athletes who had a problem getting back into it. It is just that the Olympics are the ultimate competition, and there is nothing else which compares to them. At times it is very hard to adjust. It is a once in a lifetime experience.