Aimee Willmott reflects on Commonwealth Games gold ... ‘the pinnacle of my career’April 5, 2020
Two years ago today, Aimee Willmott got Team England’s swimming campaign at the 2018 Commonwealth Games off to the perfect start with a golden performance in the first final on the Gold Coast.
Here, Willmott reflects on the 400m Individual Medley success that was a decade in the making – a triumph she describes as the pinnacle of her career.
When Aimee Willmott flew into Australia’s Gold Coast, she feared it would be her last ever taste of international competition.
So, determined to make the most of it, she vowed to not let nerves get the better of her and, instead, enjoy every single moment.
Despite swimming a lifetime best of 4:33.01 in the 400m Individual Medley in Glasgow four years earlier, the disappointment of being pipped to the Commonwealth Games gold was still strong in the memory.
And Willmott was desperate to avoid that feeling again.
“I was so upset with the silver medal in Glasgow,” said the 27-year-old University of Stirling swimmer. “I did not enjoy being on the podium.
“In Australia, I thought whatever colour medal I won, I won’t begrudge it – just enjoy it. That was the thought process going through my head.
“At the time, I thought it might have been one of my last international meets – I wasn’t sure where my career was going to go and I was a little bit nervous about that.
“So I thought I would try and have fun and, whatever the result, I should be happy with that.”
Whatever will be, will be
It proved to be the perfect plan.
After qualifying from the morning’s heat second behind defending champion Hannah Miley in a time of 4:39.19, Willmott arrived for the first final of the swimming competition in a confident mood.
“I went away [after the heats], tried to recover and rest and not think too much about the final,” said Willmott. “I tried not to over think things – whatever will be, will be. Whatever result I get, be happy about it.
“My coach said before the race you can do this if you want it. I stood behind the blocks and felt really confident – I was going to just give my best and see what happens.
“I just thought pace it correctly. It’s not what time I get but what colour medal I come away with.
“After the first 300m, I was in a really good position. The first thing I thought was do not do the same as last time.
“In Glasgow, I tried to win at 300m and went massive in the first 50m of the freestyle but Hannah went past me.
“I had a quite good turn for the last 50m and felt the adrenalin kick in as I was going for the wall. I knew it was a battle between me and Hannah as there was no-one in the outside lanes challenging – but I knew it was close.
“In the last 25 metres, I thought I was edging a bit further away with each arm pull. I could just see Hannah’s hands rather than her head.
“I did not hit the wall properly before I gave a fist pump – I’ve watched it again and it’s a terrible finish and I could have made a mess of it.
“It was such a special moment. I turned around as I knew where my mum and dad were sat and I saw them jumping up and down.
“Ten years of emotions. Ten years of just missing out. It felt like the perfect race even though it wasn’t the best time.”
Willmott had touched home in 4:34.90 – denying Scotland’s Miley a third successive 400m Individual Medley Commonwealth Games gold by 0.26 seconds.
“I wanted to get Team England off to a good start,” said Willmott. “I’d wanted to do that four years before and I didn’t quite do that.
“So to win that gold for myself and Team England was a great feeling.
“I was pipped by cycling for the first gold medal of the Games. It would have been quite nice to do that for the whole team but it was a special night.
“The whole team was buzzing. They always knew I had finished second behind Hannah so it was nice to finish the swim, go back and have a massive smile on my face rather than being moody because I’d finished second!”
What made the victory even more special for Willmott was the fact her mum and dad were both there to witness it.
Her dad, Stuart, is also a former Great Britain swimmer and competed at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
“I’ve not seen my dad cry many times but he enjoyed that moment on the Gold Coast,” said Willmott. “They have travelled across the world supporting me and it was nice to have them both there for my best moment.
“You never want to listen to your dad when you’re younger. But I realised he knew what he was talking about.
“There was always competition and rivalry about who was going to finish higher in the Olympics and I’m glad to say I won that!
“My sister, Chloe, used to swim as well. She was a really good butterfly swimmer, whereas I could not get one arm in front of the other – I was really jealous of her!
“She had the talent but not the enthusiasm for swimming. It was a family thing. My mum learned a lot about nutrition and what to feed me and without all their support, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have.”
Inspiring next generation
Willmott has effectively ruled out defending her Commonwealth Games title on home soil in two years’ time.
“I do not think I will be swimming in 2022,” she said. “It would be my fourth Commonwealth Games.
“The Olympics next year will probably be my last year. It would have been nice to swim in Birmingham.
“It’s going to be a really great atmosphere and I’m a little bit gutted I’m not going to be involved but I don’t think I can take another two years of 400m Individual Medley training.
“The Commonwealth Games success came quite late in my career. I don’t think I will be defending my title unless something miraculous happens.”
However, no-one will be able to take away Willmott’s moment of glory – which she still uses to inspire the next generation.
She often takes her gold medal when visiting schools to show pupils what can be achieved if you keep persevering and working hard to achieve your dreams.
“My medal is kept in a pink sock,” said Willmott. “I’ve taken it to schools and I say it’s the pinnacle of my career and that it took me 10 years to win that.
“It’s such a nice medal – I’ll get it in a frame one day.”