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Mark Foster humbled to be included in Hall of Fame alongside his swimming hero

As nominations for inclusion into the Swim England Hall of Fame go, Mark Foster had a watertight case.

Eight world records and 51 international medals makes him one of Great Britain’s most decorated swimmers – and here he explains what it means to be inducted alongside one of his heroes.

At the age of 10 and starting out on a swimming journey which would see him rise to one of the best in the world, Mark Foster watched Duncan Goodhew win Olympic gold on TV.

He might not have realised it at the time but it proved to be a defining moment in what turned out to be a glittering 23-year competitive career.

“I watched the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and I saw Duncan Goodhew win an Olympic gold medal in the 100m Breaststroke,” said Foster.

“Now, I don’t do breaststroke. I was never any good at breaststroke. But I watched it and I went ‘I swim, he swims and he’s on my telly’.

“I knew the Olympics was a big massive thing obviously. But as a kid you go telly, it’s special. 

“About a year later, he came along to my swimming club and did a Swim Along With Goodhew.

“I got to meet him, got to hear his story, how he became an Olympic champion from when he got into swimming. I got to touch his Olympic gold medal. 

“And that for me was I want to be like Duncan Goodhew. I want to go to the Olympic Games. I want to win an Olympic gold medal. I never won the Olympic gold but that’s where the bar was set.”

An Olympic title may have eluded Foster but his achievements both in and out of the pool since his retirement make him a worthy inductee into the Hall of Fame alongside his hero from the 1980 Moscow Games.

Makes mum proud

He says it’s humbling to be included – but is delighted to have been added for one particular reason.

“It makes my mum proud,” he said. 

“It’s nice in terms of recognition for what you did over a period of time, although I did it because I just love what I did.

“With all the laps I did, all the effort we put in to what was a minority sport. But it was our love and our passion.

“For me, it’s nice that the sport not just honours people going forward. There’s always a history and a legacy of swimming.

“Did I expect it? No, not at all. 

“I thought I was the most fortunate kid in that my sport and my love and my passion became my job.”

Foster learned how to swim after his dad nearly drowned and became petrified of the water.

Not wanting his children to find themselves in a similar situation, he enrolled them into lessons.

“He was determined myself and my sisters would learn for safety reasons and enjoyment,” said Foster.

“My swimming teacher was a lady called Mrs Hardcastle. Mrs Hardcastle was the mother of Sarah Hardcastle, 1984 Olympic Games silver and bronze medallist.

Make ends meet

“Mrs Hardcastle had a good eye and at the end of my lessons, she said ‘why don’t you join the swimming club’?

“And I started on Monday nights in the white squad, which was the lowest squad. It’s quite daunting when you start anywhere for the first time. 

“I kind of figured out that to get out of this lane into the yellow lane, I needed to get to the front of the line. 

“And I remember looking up first night there was a black squad at the deep end of the pool. And that’s where the big strong fast swimmers were.

“So that was my target to get there. So I swam Monday nights for one hour, got my way to the front of that lane, front of the next lane, and then that’s where the steps started.”

By the age of 11, Foster was national age group champion and getting quicker and quicker.

He made the senior British team when he was 15 but had to hold down various jobs until he became a professional swimmer at the age of 22.

“I worked as a courier driver, fitted double-glazed windows, worked as a groundsman, a lifeguard and worked in a council office,” said Foster. 

“I did loads of jobs to make ends meet so I could swim. And I was kind of swimming, I would say, part-time then.

“I went to the Olympic Games in 1988 in Seoul and then went to Olympic Games in 1992 in Barcelona.

“I came sixth in Barcelona and when I came back, Speedo, said ‘we’ll sponsor you’ because obviously I showed promise.

Many highlights

“And then, all of a sudden, it was like what I’m paid to do – something I love.”

With eight world records to his name and 51 international medals, there have been many highlights for Foster.

“There’s been a few standouts,” he said. “Breaking the 50m Freestyle world record and being the fastest human being on the planet is pretty cool.

“The individual bronze I won at the 1990 Commonwealth Games was an amazing moment.

“My medals four years earlier were part of a team. So even though I went on to win six World Short Course Championship golds, that bronze was like wow – just buzzing.

“Carrying the flag at Olympic Games 2008 was also a huge honour. Walking into that Olympic Stadium having being nominated by the rest of the team GB.”

Foster had a simple philosophy throughout his career, which is also sound advice for aspiring club swimmers.

“I was someone that wants to do something to the best of their ability,” he said.

“I became world record holder at 23. But when I was 11 I had a best time. And when I became a world record holder, that was still my best time. 

“So it was about self-improvement really. Every time I stepped on the block, can I go a little bit faster? Why do I train because I want to do a best time. 

“I’ll beat other people. That’s great. But I want to do a best time. 

Make it fun

“My focus was on self-improvement.

“I loved stepping on a block. I loved stepping on a block training towards something and then stepping on the block to see if it’s worked.

“Also stepping on the block against seven other people you don’t know but you’ve all got one thing in common, which is winning the race and doing the best time. 

“So I liked the process.

“What kept me going was a team of people around me. My teammates were the most important thing because, day in, day out, you just interact with one another. 

“The reason why you go to training is because you make it fun.

“The coach is really important as are the support staff and everything else. 

“But I was fortunate I had a good team of people around me.

“My family were great and mum was really supportive – although she does take the Mickey a lot.”

That may be the case but one thing is for sure, Mrs Foster is certainly proud of her son’s achievements.