Personality: Sue Rolph

First Gold For British Women In 37 Years

Increase In Strength Key To Faster Times


Karin Helmstaedt

Sue Rolph is not flashy. She doesn't put on airs. And indeed, she doesn't need to.

But the 21 year-old from Newcastle does have a lot of class. This year's goals and successes, including the European title in the 100 freestyle, are in the bag. She also picked relay medals in the 4x100 medley (1:00.31 fly leg) and 4x100 free (anchor leg 54.49). Both relays were third. Now she's looking forward to the new millenium knowing just what she can do.

It was in the cards already in June at the 1999 Mare Nostrum series. Rolph beat American sprinter Jenny Thompson four times in a row, and set a new British record in the 50 freestyle of 25.51 while she was at it (Barcelona).

She puts this year's dramatic increase in strength down to a LOT of extra hard pool work with coach Ian Oliver. She also credits a new weight training program with trainer Carl Johnston, who she points out, is the former coach of British triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards. Rolph started the program in 1997 after the last European Championships.

"I do a lot more work than before, and now I realize I didn't have the first idea of what I was doing in the gym," she said. "I've felt so super strong since then. I'm also getting older, so perhaps that means something. I'm hoping to peak next year at 22."

Rolph wins first women's gold since 1962 for Britain
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Just in time for the Sydney Olympics.
The weight program includes a lot of free weights. On average Rolph does 10 water workouts a week, and complements that with 3 gym sessions and 3 short poolside sessions which involve mostly abdominal work. "We just give Carl our competition program and he works around it," she added.

The result has been a remarkable consistency. Rolph has holding steady at 55 seconds all season in the 100 freestyle; she swam 55.6 in Sheffield in early June, 55.7 in Barcelona, 55.5 in Canet, and then won the event in Istanbul in 55.03. While Dutch sprinter Inge de Bruijn's 54.92 is still at the top of the rankings, the important thing was being able to beat de Bruijn in the race.

"It's good to see that I'm doing it regularly," Rolph said. "I'd like to have a good solid year after Istanbul.

She'll be wasting no time-competitions for next year include a lot of long course tuning. She cites the Mare Nostrum tour and the European Championships in Helsinki as definite targets.

"People are starting to know who I am at meets like the Canet meet. I have to start making those meets into the big meets."

Ian Wilson, GBR
PLACE Sunderland, GBR
HEIGHT 182 cm (6'0")
WEIGHT 72 kg (160 lb)
REPRESENTS City of Leeds
COACH Terry Denison
- 99 SC Worlds 4th 1500 free 14:58.40
- 98 SC Europeans 1500 free 15:02.18
- 98 Commonwealths 6th 1500 free 15:29.83
- 97 Europeans 6th 1500 free 15:23.54
- 94 Commonwealths 4th 1500 free 15:08.77
- 92 Olympics 5th 1500 free 15:13.35
- 91 Europeans 2nd 1500 free 15:03.72

As the sport of swimming becomes increasingly money-oriented, Rolph has known to seize the horse by the reins. Like German freestyler Sandra Volker, she is one of the new generation of "pro" swimmers. She has put her studies aside indefinitely to devote herself to training full-time, and she's even given up a swim contract she had with the French club C.S. Clichy near Paris. But being a pro does have its drawbacks.

"My worst problem with swimming is that I get very homesick when I'm away," she admitted with a laugh. "I need to be kept occupied and happy."

Luckily for Rolph, some of the personal aspects of life are taken care of. Her boyfriend of 5 years, Craig Nicholson, trains with her in Newcastle. As for her relationship with coach Ian Oliver, Rolph said it's as good as it can be given they see one another first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

"We have a typical swimmer-coach relationship-we argue like cats and dogs!" she said laughing. "But at the end of the day we produce what's needed."

As usual, Rolph doesn't mince her words. A good example is her take on the reintroduction of semi-finals. "I don't like them at all . My first meet with semi-finals was in Hong Kong (short course worlds) and because I swim a few events it's difficult. I won't give up the I.M. but when it comes to the crunch I think it's the sprint freestyle where I'll be around."

What are her plans after Sydney? "I'd like to go to Commonwealths in Manchester in 2002. That might be a nice way to finish. I don't want to be one of these people who hangs around forever and can't retire."

"Then again, it's easier for us to swim longer now because we have more money," she added, citing British Lottery money, and personal sponsorships with Adidas and Barclay's Bank as the most important sources of income.

"We do pretty well," she said, matter-of-factly. "We're self-employed now, so that's the way we have to live. It's a business really."