Mark Foster is backing a new British Gas campaign to get more people into the pool and get more people fit and healthy.
We caught up with Foster to chat about SwimBritain, looking back on the Olympic Games and what lies ahead.
- You are backing a new report by British Gas SwimBritain campaign so can you tell me a little bit about the findings of the report?
The research that was done by British Gas showed that nearly a quarter of Britons spend half of their week sitting down. Half of most days are spent sitting down; commuting to work, sitting down at work all day, commuting home, getting dinner, sitting on the couch then going to bed.
So what British Gas are tying to do with this SwimBritain concept - people can go to swimbritain.co.uk to find out more information - is give people a target and give people a challenge; a lot of people always say to me ’I want to do an event but I don’t know of an event to do’ and this will give everyone the opportunity to do a swim challenge.
You don’t do it alone you do it in a team and it can be done in open water or in a swimming pool. It is the British Gas initiative to get more and more people healthier and more and more people swimming regularly by 2015.
If you do it as a team it becomes a social and fun event and therefore you are more than likely to continue and do the challenge.
- You have touched on my next question SwimBritain is a new initiative to get people more active so can you tell me how they are planning to do that?
If you go to the website you will find out more information on there. There are also some links on there that will help you improve you style, technique, fitness, training plans.
But by having a challenge and a goal… this will be in September so if you start now you will get fitter and healthier and for a lot of people they will rediscover the water.
Some people who have learnt to swim but aren’t very good will get in again and the more that you do it the better you will get - I am not saying that people will go and be Olympic athletes in five minutes. If you do it with friends and make is social you are more likely to turn up at the pool as you don’t want to let people down.
If you fit it into your week by going once a week or twice a week - I always think that if you cannot make time for yourself then who else can you make time for? If you think that ‘your health is you wealth’.
What people will find is that when they get into the water the sight, the sound and the feel of the water is a relaxing place to be. A lot of people say that they don’t run because they get stress fractures but in the water you don’t get any of that and all of the movements that you do are stretching.
When people do start swimming, depending on what ability you are, it is also a gateway to lots of other sports such as surfing or triathlon.
- How did you get involved in the campaign?
I have done a lot of stuff with British Gas but I just love seeing people getting fit and getting healthy and getting the benefits of sports. I go into to schools and talk to kids and I am blown away by how little sport that they do and so many people just want the opportunity to do something.
This is an opportunity and because there is an event coming up people will go out of their way to make sure that they get a little bit fitter and a little bit healthier.
Everyone should learn how to swim as we are an island nation and there are thirty thousand miles of rivers and lakes in this country and so it is so important that we learn to swim. Then when you can swim it’s jut taking it a little bit further and swimming a little bit better.
It is not about elite sport but we just need to get more and more people into sport and make them realise that being fitter and being healthier makes life easier.
- People lead very busy lives and while many of us want to be more active perhaps we don't have the time so what advice would you give to those who want to get more active in general?
It is not about saying that you have to do something seven days a week - there are only a tiny percentage of people who really can’t fit it in but the majority of people can.
It is about time management, planning and making time for yourself. It might only be once a week it might be a couple of times a week but all of us are guilty, and I have done the same, of putting obstacles in the way and we switch off to it.
That is why I say make time for yourself, make time for your friends and make time for you family - it might just be a weekend thing - but it is about trying to make time for yourself.
I practice what I preach because I still get into the water and stay healthy. It was my job but I am always on at my family and some to a bit of yoga and others do some dance. I don’t want to preach to people but being fit and healthy does make life easier.
- You have been retired a few years now so do you still swim? And how much do you miss the competitive aspect?
Getting on the black and racing is the main thing that I do miss. But also I did enjoy the training and that is why I continued until I was thirty eight years of age.
There were elements of it that I didn’t like; jumping into freezing cold water at five thirty in the morning is not the nicest thing in the world but I knew that I had to do that bit to be able to do the bit that I loved - which was trying to stand on top of the podium.
That’s way I do say to people that there are certain elements of your job that you don’t like but you have to do them. And there will be certain elements of getting back in the water or being in the water but when you get a little bit better and a little bit fitter it becomes a little bit… as human beings we are addictive personalities and I think the more you do something the more you will enjoy it.
I like to see people getting fit and healthy by doing sport and swimming being my sport and the thing that I am passionate about I truly believe it is the best sport for staying fit and healthy as you don’t get the impact other sports give you.
It is not a case of just doing swimming and not doing anything else - some people do just swim - but other people might have ran for years and now they want a different challenge. Just get in the water get some friends together or get the family together and give this SwimBritain challenge a go.
- The last time we spoke we talked about the build up to the 2012 Olympics. So how where the Games as a whole for you?
I had the best time as I had the best seat in the house next to Claire Balding - I made her career, I think she was nothing until she met me (laughs). I had the best time at the Olympics and the next best thing to doing it is sitting there talking about it.
The team as a whole, as much as people say we didn’t have a great Games, it wasn’t bad - it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad it was just ok but being just ok isn’t good enough at the moment.
If you look back twelve years ago we only had eight finalists in the swimming pool and last year, twelve years on, we had twenty three, which is nearly three times as many finalists.
In 2000 we had no medals and this time we had three medals but what we need now is for more of those finalists converting to medallists so we can come away with five, ten or fifteen medals.
The difficulties we face is that America, China, Australia and the whole of Europe is that they do concentrate and they do swim - if America does concentrate on any sport in general unfortunately, because of the way that technology is in the States, they tend to dominate.
- There has been plenty of time to analyse what happened in the pool in London so do you think that the British team were a little harshly treated? And what did you think of the performances overall?
I think they were a little bit harshly treated. Thing is we expect but the athletes expect as well and there will have been people who got out of the water having come fourth, fifth or sixth whose time at the trails would have won them a medal and whose best would have won them a medal.
They will be the ones who will look in the mirror and think ’I missed out on that opportunity’. The difficulty is if I say to you “at 6.05pm on the 23rd July you have got to be at your best” - ten minutes before, a day before, a week before a week after doesn’t matter it need to be at that moment.
Timing is so important and getting it right at that moment; we saw that with Ruta Meilutyte, the fifteen year old Lithuanian who trains in Plymouth - no one expected that to happen. We need more athletes to have that happen to - but it doesn’t happen very often to anyone.
- What do you think need to be done to push forward as the new Olympic cycle begins?
There has been a lot of changes and a lot of shift but I think that we really need to race more - we need to race more against the top Americans and top Australians and the other top swimmers in the world more often.
I use to travel the world racing people - not because I knew that that was what I needed to do but because I enjoyed it and I enjoyed challenging myself against the top people.
So when I stood on the block against people at a major championships I was relaxed. When you look at the best athletes in the world when they are at their best you look at them and think ‘god didn’t they make that look easy’ and that is because they were relaxed.
I think we should tap into the system in the States because it is the best system in the world and send more swimmers over there. We want a home grown system of course we do and we have got one but for some people that doesn’t suit.
For me, you need to be in an environment where you are training against the top people in the world day in and day out as they push you a lot more and you push them. It just pushes you every day and in every session to be better than you are already.
I have had it where as the world record holder I was training in a pool with thirteen and fourteen year old kids and so there was no one pushing me. No matter what you job is you need to be pushed, to be taken out of our comfort zone so we can be better than we are.
- There was so much talk about legacy before the Olympics do you think that that promise is being kept from a swimming point of view? If not what would you like to see done?
Every sport has its challenges and every sport wants to get more people participating in their sport. For me, swimming is one of those sports that will literally save your life so people really do need to learn to swim.
Then it is keeping them in water - and I don’t mean keeping them in the water to make the Olympic Games but instead people realising that it is a great form of exercise as you can burn as many calories swimming at a reasonable pace as you can running at eight miles an hour.
I can talk all day long about the benefits of swimming - there are benefits in general to being fit and healthy but there’s huge benefits from being in the water.
If you have a stressful day you can put you head under the water and no one can talk to you and no one can get to you and you can just listen to the sound of the water. So people who can’t swim need to learn and people can swim need to rediscover the water.
- Finally what is next for you?
I have got lots of different stuff in the pipeline but I can’t talk about them (laughs). I go to corporate companies and relate goal setting processes, dealing with setbacks and using stories from the sports world and incorporating that into the business world.
One of the other things that I do is go into schools and try and motivate kids to get involved in sport. I was one of the fortunate ones who loved sport but it is not all about the competitiveness behind it and the benefits that go with it.
I do lots of things around being a well person and I am creating a few brands and stuff. But today is about SwimBritain and British Gas and if people go to the website they will find out more information there.
Mark Foster is a British Gas ambassador. This spring British Gas is launching SwimBritain, a campaign to create a healthier nation and get more people swimming
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