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Q&A with artistic swimming duet Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe

The artistic swimming duet of Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe have shared some insights into their journey from the learn to swim programme through to the Tokyo Olympics.

The pair have been swimming together since they were around seven-years-old – almost 15 years so far.

Tokyo 2020 was their first-ever appearance at an Olympic Games.

A combination of their duet technical and free routine scores saw them finish in 14th position at their maiden Olympics.

The Team GB duo just missed out on a place in the final, with the top 12 progressing through, but put on fantastic performances and ‘left everything in the pool’.

Recently, they reflected on their experiences to date and also looked ahead to Paris 2024.

When you went through the learn to swim programme, did you think ‘I don’t want to just swim anymore, I want to do something more creative’? Is that how you got into artistic swimming?

Thorpe: “I know Kate did swimming as well, but I mainly went into artistic swimming straight away.

“After trying artistic swimming, I didn’t want to just swim up and down anymore and I had to do a bit more.”

Shortman: “It’s an amazing opportunity if you’re creative and you’re artistic. It’s such an original sport.

“It’s just like dancing in a pool I guess and to me that’s what I loved about it and what I still love about it now.”

What is it teachers need to look for to find artistic swimmers at an early age and give them an advantage?

Thorpe: “I think you will have experienced a lot of swimmers and a lot of kids that love to stay underwater and just like to play around in the water.

“They’re the ones you want to get into artistic swimming because they just love the water.

“I think we were like that when we were younger, always in the water but not really listening and that’s what artistic swimming is like at a young age, just enjoying and getting to learn how to use the water in a different way to swimming.”

Shortman: “A lot of artistic swimmers get into it through dance, gymnastics, or a combination of those with something like speed swimming. It doesn’t have to be through those things but it definitely helps.”

What were your milestones on your journey to getting to where you are now and when did you think ‘I could go far with this’?

Thorpe: “When we both started doing National Age Groups around the age of 10, I think in our second year we won our duet and from then on we were always national champions in our age group which was a big tell for us.

“Also, our first international competition for our age group when we went to Israel and we came second in figures which was big for us as there were so many countries that entered.

“Japan was there, Russia too, and for us to come second we knew we had something special to take forward.”

Tell us about Tokyo and that journey through qualification to the Games itself…

Thorpe: “Lockdown was obviously a massive part of that journey for us.

“Both of us had our times where we were really struggling but we got through, we had each other and we have a really good support system, and I think it made us a lot stronger.

“That helped us going into the qualifications and it was really tough, we had to finish top seven and we did it which was an amazing feeling to know that all our hard work from learn to swim and coming all the way through the pathway had paid off. It really was an amazing feeling.”

Shortman: “We’ve got a unique story of swimming together since we were around seven years old.

“It’s been nearly 15 years we’ve been swimming together now and it’s been on our minds since we were about 12 that we wanted to get to the Olympic Games.

“When the duet [Katie Clark and Olivia Federici] stopped after the Rio 2016 Olympics, we were like ‘now’s our chance, we’re going to go for it’ and we did.

“It was strange because all of the qualifiers got pushed back so many times because of the pandemic but it worked out perfectly for both us and we’re really happy with how the whole journey went.”

What’s are the challenges for Paris, what have you got to do between now and then to prepare?

Thorpe: “They’ve actually made qualification much harder, which is annoying but good because of how hard we’re training.

“What they’ve done is taken four places out for the duets, and we qualified in that bottom last time, so we need to make sure we’re training as hard as we possibly can and hopefully World Championships we’ll have a marker to see where we are.

“It’s really close between us and the three or four above us but we’re just taking each day as it comes and are enjoying the process.

“The journey is a massive part of it and you have to make sure you enjoy that too.”

How has being a part of a high performance centre changed your day to day?

Thorpe: “We’ve got a squad of around 20 girls that have joined and we go to university at either Bath, Bristol or UWE [University of West Bristol] as they’re only up to a 30-minute commute to Hepgrove.

“The best thing is that we can all train together regularly and it means we can work on bringing through a team as well.

“Obviously it’s amazing that we got to Tokyo as a duet, but we really want to bring on the team for Paris 2024 and start up a grassroots system for artistic swimming.”