Learning to block out negative influences is hard, but you just have to do your best.

I thought I was pretty thick skinned; someone not easily derailed and carefree.

However, the mounting pressure of swimming at an Olympic Games comes with new and inexperienced mental influences.

An example of just one incident was when a primary school friend (someone I hadn’t talked to since 2007), decided to message me and tell me that they had been watching me swim at the Rio Olympics and had decided to place a wager on me to win the 200m breaststroke. 

This wasn’t the reason I didn’t swim to my expectations in Rio, but looking back, I certainly put too much energy into thinking about it and letting myself get angry at him for telling me.

See, non-athletes seem to say stupid things which (in their mind) will encourage an athlete to perform better.

However, in the mind of the athlete, it can equate to pressure.

I’m not a greyhound. You can’t make me aware that you have put money on me and think that’s not going to affect me mentally.

Swimming is a very individualised sport; when you don’t perform, you have no one else to blame but yourself!

Great athletes do everything they possibly can to best prepare themselves for the big race, however, sometimes obstacles pop up, and the ones who can adapt and thrive will succeed.

exclusive insight taylor mckeown

The morning of my 100m breaststroke in Rio, everything that could go wrong, did. I woke up and packed my bags, went to jump in the lift (from our level 9 apartment) only to discover it was broken.

So I had no option but to walk down the very dirty and dusty staircase, not ideal when you’re trying to save your legs for the race.

Once at the bottom I continued to walk over to the dining hall as usual. I walked down the ramp, about to go in when a volunteer stopped us and said no one is permitted to enter due to the roof collapsing.

I couldn’t believe it! I decided to walk all the way back to the Australian Team building and eat whatever snacks they had in the hub (a few muesli bars, a lot less than what I would normally have before a major race).

Because of all the extra time taken to walk everywhere, I was now late for my bus. I got on the next bus (20 min later than originally planned) and it was full, so I stood up for the entire 25 min bus ride to the pool.

No coaches offered to let me sit. However, I arrived at the pool still in good spirits and continued with my warm up routine as I normally would.

I managed to adapt and still get in the warm-up pool on time. I then swam my fastest ever time for the 100m breaststroke in that heat swim. I was so shocked!

I was proud of myself for being so resilient and remaining calm. Looking back, I know I only felt this way because I wasn’t worried about my performances in the 100m, I had come for the 200m! And that care free, relaxed, happy attitude gave me a great result.

I had a strong 200m heat swim, qualifying 3rd into the semi-finals. I was relaxed and happy before my semi-final swim, and remained that way during the entire race, qualifying fastest for the final the following night.

Unfortunately I let my own pressure to win, external pressure and the fact I was swimming out of lane 4 in my first Olympic final effect my performance, and I finished 5th.

Anyone that knows me well, knows I’m a chilled out person. I tend to swim poorly when I put pressure on myself, so I make every effort to make sure I am having fun, and remain calm.

That’s certainly something I look forward to putting into practice at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

We have just finished our last round of competition before the Commonwealth Games trials, and my performances at those competitions have given me confidence leading into the trials, its great to know how we are tracking leading in.

The entire Australian swim team seems to be travelling really well at the moment.

Having won the gold medal in the 200m breaststroke at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, I know all eyes will be on me so it’s important that I am fully prepared to handle that.

Thankfully, the Olympics is the pinnacle of every athletes sporting career, and I was able to gain plenty to experience when competing there.

Looking forward at the Commonwealth Games now, I am overwhelmed with excitement to swim at a major event in Queensland, and celebrate the special times with my family, friends, support circle and fans.

As the reigning Commonwealth champion in the 200m breaststroke, it’s common for people to ask me if I am ready to, or feeling the pressure of defending my title.

At the moment of writing this, the honest answer is no. I am excited, happy and positive. Nerves have always been something I have been able to manage, and where possible, use to my advantage, it’s the pressure that makes or breaks me.

The way I sum it up, when I swim at my best it’s usually when I’m having fun, embracing the atmosphere, crowd and taking each moment as it comes.

Since Rio I am learning to deflect or channel pressure into positive energy that I can use for my preparation.

taylor mckeown exclusive insight

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been injury free (thus far) in this preparation. I’ve been able to complete all the training sessions and achieve training PBs.

After a disappointing final swim in the 200m breaststroke at last years FINA World Swimming Championships, I realised I had made a trend out of straying away from my race plan and not trusting my process in the final swims when it counts.

Someone asked me at the World Champs “why is your 100m race plan different to your 200m race plan?”.

That’s when it hit me; why was I focusing on coming home strong in the second half of my 100 (a known strength) and not in the 200m.

It was time to go back to what worked for me so well in 2014 and rediscover my back-end race strength. My aerobic capacity has always been strong, so it was time to emphasise it my races again.

Come the first meet post World Championships, the 2017 QLD State Championships, I focused on my new (old) race strategy and was blown away with how well I raced, and the times I was producing.

I did the same thing for NSW and VIC State Champs, which were the last two comps before Commonwealth Games trials.

I would love nothing more than to hit personal best this year, and to achieve it through a well executed race.

I would love to get as many swims as possible at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve entered in the 100m and 200m breaststroke as well as the 200m individual medley.

I train hard enough, that my body can handle the load. And I want to make the most out of my Commonwealth Games experience.

The more events I compete in, the less time I have to think about each one, and the more enjoyable racing becomes.

There is such a buzz around the swim team, knowing how fast Gold Coast is approaching.

Come taper, I won’t miss the early morning starts, spin classes, altitude masks, heavy gym and vigorous swim sessions.

I look forward to some mental and physical rest, to best prepare me for racing. I love the confidence training hard gives me on race day.

Getting on the blocks knowing I’ve left nothing behind is the best way to be!

At times I struggle with motivation to get out of bed, especially in winter when it’s dark, cold and miserable. But I know it’s my job, and it must get done.

My favourite personal quote, which I always say to myself in tough times is; “what would the best in the world do in this situation?”

Swimmers often joke and complain about how much we hate training, and the amount we do, all for a two minute race which occurs 4 times a year..

Although, as much as we hate it at times, its part of the journey and building confidence for race day, knowing we have done absolutely everything we could for a podium finish.

Taylor McKeown

Taylor McKeown is an Australian swimmer, winning a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in the 4x100m medley relay.

As a proud Queenslander, she is looking forward to competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.