Monday 11 December 2017

Swimming: Olympic star tells of depression after winning medal at Games

Ryan Hooper

A British Olympic swimmer admits she shut her medal from the Beijing Games away in a drawer and could not look at it after becoming "depressed" with post-Olympics life.

Cassie Patten took bronze for Great Britain in the 10km open water swimming marathon four years ago, but was forced to call time on her sporting career months before this year's Games due to a nagging shoulder complaint which seriously hindered her ability to compete at the top level.

She admits she almost threw the medal away accidentally when she stuffed it in a bag and did not look at it for months after returning to England as an Olympic hero.

"Now I am proud of myself, I have allowed myself to be happy with my medal," said Patten, from Cornwall.

"When you come home from an Olympics, it's like coming home from a school camp. You go from being in this village full of incredible people, you see the Williams sisters (American tennis stars Venus and Serena) - you're in this bubble of having the best time, to coming home. Yes, I'd won a medal, but everyone gets the post-Olympic blues."

Patten, 25, is now working at Lux Park Leisure Centre in Liskeard, Cornwall, where she learned to swim as a young girl. She is coaching adult swimmers and also has plans to start her own sports training business.

But she admits there was a cloud hanging over her at the start of the four-year gap between Olympics.

"It's always difficult the year after the Olympics because four years (until the next Games) is such a long time," she said.

"Training is so hard. People see you on the podium, but they don't see you at 4am scraping ice off your car. They don't see you when your friends are all going out and you're having to stay at home because you're training.

"I am not complaining because that's something, as athletes, we choose to do. But to go from this humongous high into the mundane and really hard work as life as a professional athlete, it's hard.

"In the year after the Games, I felt lost. I got really depressed, I was really unhappy. I would come swimming and just sit on poolside and just cry. It was horrible because I loved swimming. It was a difficult time."

Patten continued to train and compete, but was increasingly blighted by a shoulder injury which eventually took its toll on her performance. It meant she had difficulty moving it at all, and often had to take painkillers and adjust her stroke to combat the effects of her condition.

She quit the sport last summer, and even had a six-month period without swimming.

"I was petrified (of quitting swimming), of losing the one thing in my mind that I was good at," Patten said. "A lot of sports people really struggle, you see them when they come out of retirement and they are so lost - they feel like failures.

"And so I didn't swim for a very long time (after retirement)."

The athlete has since returned to the pool and was honoured to be involved in the London Games, where she worked as a television pundit, as well as being invited to attend events alongside other British medal winners, including Sally Gunnell and Dame Kelly Holmes.

"I was very proud of London," she said. "A lot of people wondered if it would live up to the expectation, if London would be able to deliver. Beijing was incredible, but it never touched London in terms of the atmosphere.

"London was a sporting spectacle, it wasn't just a sporting presence. It was an Olympics for everybody, not just dedicated sports fans."

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