British Personality: James Hickman

Always Motivated, Seldom Satisfied


Leah Wizelman

James Hickman, the two-time short course world champion and world record holder in 200 butterfly short course finished with a silver medal in the 100 and a 4th place in the 200 butterfly event at this year's European Long Course Championships. While these results did not quite correspond to his expectations, he says, "I think that's what keeps me motivated, not being satisfied."

James Hickman was born in Stockport, United Kingdom on February 22,1976. He started swimming at the age of six and was specializing in freestyle before recognizing his potential in butterfly as a teenager.

Hickman's breakthrough came with winning the European Junior title in 200 butterfly in 1993.

When asked about his idols, Hickman says, "I'm inspired by most of Britain's best-ever swimmers and their stories of their greatest swims. At the Olympics I shared a room with Nick Gillingham and that was inspiring, as was talking to Adrian Moorhouse and Andy Jameson about their Olympic experiences."

Hickman's senior career includes highlights like winning the Short Course World Championships in 200 butterfly in 1997 and 1999 as well as finishing first in the same event at the Commonwealth Games in 1998. These successes are only part of numerous other medals and victories.

He is the short course world record holder in 200 butterfly in a time of 1:51.76, which he set in March 1998 during the World Cup in Paris.

In September 1999, during the Australian Short Course Championships, Michael Klim from Australia snatched away Hickman's world record in 100 butterfly, swimming 50.99 in comparison to Hickman's 51.02. Hickman had held his record since December 1998 at the European Championships in Sheffield.

About his strength in short course races, James Hickman explains: "I have been stronger in short course, which I put down to training short course until I was 21. This meant I worked on turns a lot, which is a strong part of my short course race."

After returning from the World Championships in Perth and the World Cup in 1998, he decided to continue his training with coach Terry Denison at the City of Leeds Swimming Club.

His weekly training program adds up to 27 hours, consisting of 20 hours swimming within 10 sessions, 3 hours of weights, as well as 3 hours of land training and stretching, and 1 hour of massage. He practises 6 days a week, from Sunday to Friday, with Saturday off.

His land training program is divided into a couple of weeks of circuits, followed by a couple of weeks of heavy free weights and concluded with a couple of weeks of power exercises. In addition, he participates in altitude training a few times a year, for example in Arizona, where he swims 65,000 m.

Concerning his training in long or short pools he says, "My main training pool is at Leeds International Pool, which is a 50-metre pool. I also go on training camps at other pools around the world and in this country both 25-metre and 50-metre pools."

And what does he do to get over a period during which he is not really motivated? "Sorry to have to say it, but I'm always motivated."

Not only training, but his nutrition also follows special rules: "I eat a well-balanced diet. My favourite food is pizza. During major competitions the British team nutritionist advises on diet."

Before a competiton, Hickman's training schedule undergoes some changes. He does not do the above-mentioned amount of training before a major event, but reduces weights first and the total distances of swimming to about a third, while the different disciplines of training stay the same.

Hickman thinks it is good to be nervous before a competition - the hard part is not getting too nervous. Listening to music before an event helps him to stop thinking about who he is racing, and the right kind of music even makes him want to race.

"It used to be rock, I was a big Bon Jovi fan, sometimes I listen to dance. At the Commonwealth Games I listened to Robbie Williams."

During a race, James has his own strategy that helps him to focus and not to think of too many things at once. He has a key word that he thinks of for every 50 m, like "quick" or "push it." This also helps him to pace the race.

His opinion on semi-finals? "Everybody has to do them, so it doesn't make any difference. I've always been a multi-event swimmer so if anything it helps."

Although having the short course Europeans and Worlds and the long course Europeans and Olympics ahead of him, James Hickman finds it not really difficult to arrange the training and a focus.

"The Olympics is the only focus for next year - everything else is practice."

His aim is "to win an Olympic gold medal."

Asked about his competitors during this event of all events, he states: "Tom Malchow, Franck Esposito, Denis Sylantyev, Michael Klim, Geoff Huegill - they'll all be strong!"

Hickman does not plan to stop with competitive swimming after the Olympics. "I really want to swim in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, my home town. From then I will decide year by year, depending on my form."

And when he is not swimming he enjoys "watching movies and I like to write to the friends I have made through travelling around the world because of my swimming."

During the Grand Prix Final in Sheffield in 1999, he did the television commentary. Working on TV is what he plans to do after leaving the sport.