Adrian Radley didn't know much about swimming when he started at the age of 13. "I went to a private school and it was the only summer sport," he says. "We have a backyard pool and I'd always been in the water since I was young, so I thought I'd give it a go."
It wasn't until he was 16, having done well on the high school circuit, that he started training more seriously. Since then, the 20 year-old Australian has packed a lot into his short career.
From private school in Melbourne he went to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, and by 1995 he was a finalist at the Pan Pacific Championships in the 200 backstroke (2:02.5). That same year he was a consolation finalist at the World Short Course Championships in Rio de Janeiro, with hopes of making the Olympic team. He was a little off in 1996, however, and missed the Atlanta Games.
Generally unhappy with his results after the Olympic trials, Radley switched coaches, finding the suitable mentor in Canadian expatriate Jim Fowlie. Things immediately picked up, and he saw his times improve throughout the fall. In December he surprised himself with two Commonwealth records in the 100 (52.28) and 200 (1:53.98) backstrokes at the Australian Nationals. "Things had gone well from the end of June," he says, "but swimming at home in Melbourne got a lot more out of me."
Radley went on to compete at five of the eight FINA Swimming World Cup meets in January and February, dominating the competition and winning the World Cup title in the Backstroke category. While his impressive underwater kick off the start got him into trouble in Malmö—he was disqualified twice— he is satisfied at having "survived" the series while remaining consistent and in control of his racing. His good-natured smile turns sheepish, however, when describing the 200 backstroke in Glasgow, a race in which he looked uncharacteristically laid back. "I was a bit tired," he says, "and I gave up. I got in a bit of trouble over that. I learned my lesson and it won't happen again!"
Looking back on his failure to make the Olympics, he says, "A lot of it was my fault. I got really serious on it and I wasn't thinking about other things in my life. I deferred my university, and that was the wrong thing to do. Now I have other things on my mind instead of just living 100 per cent for swimming. I'm having a lot more fun this year, doing things I want to do instead of feeling like I have to inhibit my lifestyle."
Training with coach Fowlie is "more specific sort of work." Radley averages 50-55 km a week and has some occasional help from AIS coach Gennadi Touretsky, the coach of Alexander Popov. "It's a terrific group (at the AIS). Jim's really swimmer-oriented in his approach and asks me what I think about what we're doing," he says. "It's good that I can tell him anything. Unlike a junior swimmer-coach situation where the coach has all the say, I feel like I'm in control of my swimming."
Radley is studying second year Commerce by correspondence from Deacon University in Melbourne. He says the flexibility of the system—he even sends the occasional assignment by fax when he is travelling—is the answer for a large number of athletes in Australia. "It works really well," he says, "I basically teach myself," adding that the AIS provides tutors and any extra help he needs for his subjects. "I don't think it's good to just swim and exercise. It's good to do something with your mind as well. I actually enjoy the distraction of doing some schoolwork."
Relaxing for Radley includes going out on the occasional Saturday night, and spending time with his family in Melbourne - a 7-hour drive or one-hour flight away. He tries to get home at least once a month "to see Mum," and to take advantage of the city's cultural side. Most of his friends and his girlfriend Jodie are there, which he admits, "is a bit of a pain." But everything has its price...other interests include his laser display. "I'm really into movies," he says, "It's something I dabble in and spend my money on." After all of that he adds, "There's not a lot of time for anything else."
Leading up to the Short Course World Championships in Gothenburg, Radley is confident and relaxed. It is a busy year for the close-knit Australian team, who have their Pan Pacific Trials before leaving for Sweden. "Now I just worry about what I have to do," he says. "It's very simple logic, and I've never really believed it myself until this year."
As far as admiring other athletes, Radley says, "I didn't get into swimming because of anyone else, but as I've gotten older I've admired people as I've learned more about the sport." He cites Martin Lopez-Zubero and Jeff Rouse as examples of consistent swimmers with impressive careers. Alex Popov is another role model because "he's so professional and yet really laid back. He's confident but not arrogant; that's what I think a swimmer should be."