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How her loving parents helped Amy go for gold
IN a sporting world blighted by pushy parents and claustrophobic coaches, Phil and June Smith are a breath of fresh air.
Their 24-year-old daughter Amy, a former Worcestershire schoolgirl, is one of British swimming’s great hopes for a medal at this summer’s Olympic Games and, as ever, the couple from Trimpley Drive, Kidderminster, will be poolside to cheer their hearts out and probably lose their voices along the way.
But that’s about the limit of it.
You won’t find Phil banned from the arena for a punch-up with opponents or June throwing a wobbly if things don’t go right.
They might, in their own way, be driven, but not in the direction that has got so many other mothers and fathers into trouble.
I had fixed the interview to cast some light on what it is like to be the parents of a sporting star and, in the process, the guardians of a special talent.
OK, so now Amy lives in Loughborough, where she gained a university degree in sport and exercise science, and has done for several years, but surely there must have been the early morning training sessions, the tantrums and the toys tossed out of the pram as she grew up?
What about the sacrifices, involving both money and time, as their daughter fulfilled her dream, not theirs?
In the Smith household, it appears, these were not big issues.
Issues, obviously, but not ones to die for.
“I always told her that if it was getting too much, to pack it in,”
said Phil. “She’s got her whole life ahead of her and while we are obviously ecstatic over what she has achieved, we have always wanted Amy to take a balanced outlook and consider her future.
“We have never thought it worth her jeopardising her long-term health.”
As someone who had a stroke four years ago and had to give up work, Phil Smith knows about long-term health.
He revealed the family’s more loose-reined approach to training by saying that Amy wasn’t allowed early morning pool sessions as a youngster.
“We felt it would be too tiring for her to do all that swimming then go to school afterwards,” he said.
“I couldn’t see it was going to do her any good.” It’s well recorded that many other competitive parents took an alternative view.
Phil also had a difference of opinion with a coach who insisted Amy did 80-length warm-up sessions before a race.
“They were actually 20 metre widths, but she was only 11,” he said. “Eighty of them, it was too much.Yes, you could say we had a discussion.”
Of course, this isn’t to say Phil and June were not as keen as every other parent to see their daughter do well – and a lot keener than some.
“When we went to galas, we didn’t let Amy go off larking about,” her father said.
“Some of the other children would be running around and using up their energy, like children do. We reminded Amy we were all there because she was there to race and to have the best chance she would need to conserve her energy for what was important. We would drop the seat in the car so she could have a lie down and relax between races.
“Some of the other parents did the same, but a lot just used to let their children treat it as a lark.”
What has touched this particular branch of the Smith family with the swimming talent stick is not easy to fathom.
Mother June hated the water as a youngster and while father Phil was a useful local sportsman, playing football and cricket for works and club teams, he was certainly not Tarzan across the pool. Their daughter, however, has turned out to be a natural.
She started her education at Franche First School in Kidderminster, where as luck would have it, there was a swimming pool.
“As soon as Amy got in the water she loved it,” her mother said. “She just showed no fear.”
When the family went on holiday with friends to the Greek island of Zante, young Amy’s enthusiasm completely took over.
“We couldn’t keep her out of the water,” June said. “As soon as we fished her out, she’d jump back in.”
So back in the UK and at the age of eight, Amy Smith joined Kidderminster Swimming Club.
“She was such a little dot,” said her mother. “All the others seemed much bigger than her. At that age they competed in age groups and Amy was usually the smallest.
“It wasn’t until she grew two-anda- half inches in a year at 13 she seemed to catch up.” Even now, at 5ft 8ins tall, Amy Smith is only medium height for a girl swimmer.
“Her career has always gone on steadily rather than in big bursts,”
her father said. “I don’t think she has ever seemed to be a young prodigy with an amazing talent that would mark her out as a world beater.
“But she has come on steadily and is now probably swimming the best she has ever done in her life.
We are so proud of her.”
Whether the gradual development of Amy’s talent has anything to do with the more relaxed approach of her parents in her early career, no one will ever know.
What is certain is that after coming away from her debut Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 with a 4x100m freestyle relay silver, she eventually became a regular fixture in the British swimming team by 2009.
An impressive performance at the British Championships was followed by a call-up to the GB team for the World Championships in Rome, where Amy helped the 4x100m freestyle relay team to seventh.
A whirlwind 2010 followed, in which she picked up relay gold and silver at the European Championships in Budapest before defending her Commonwealth 4x100m freestyle relay silver and making two individual finals for Team England at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Now the Olympics await and if little Amy Smith from Franche First School and Wolverley High wins a medal, every rooftop in Trimpley Drive will suddenly lift off.