Olympic swimming legend and TV presenter Sharron Davies looks back with David Johns on her days in the pool in Birmingham and forward to the British hopefuls going for gold in Rio
Birmingham and the Midlands as a whole occupy a special place in Sharron Davies’s heart. The Olympic medal-winning swimmer turned TV presenter and reality star remembers her time at the City of Birmingham Swimming Club and living in Solihull with particular fondness. “It was in the days when Nick Gillingham and that whole generation of great British swimmers were around the club and at their peak,” Sharron recalls, referring to the former men’s world recordholder and breaststroke champion from Walsall. Sharron raced for Birmingham in the early 1990s, and although her stay was relatively brief, her love of the area and her interest in Midlands swimming has remained with her ever since. “I had a great time in Birmingham,” she says. “I’d come off a break with swimming and decided I wanted to go back into it, so I moved to Birmingham to be with Nick’s set up at the pool.
“While I was with the club, I stayed in a lovely cottagey place in Solihull. It was a great place to be based from and until then I had never realised what a lovely place Solihull was.” Sharron eventually left the club and retired from competitive swimming altogether in 1993 to set off on what would become a significant TV career which included appearing on the likes of Gladiators and Question of Sport. She recalls life on the small screen didn’t exactly start with public adoration and fat paychecks. “My first attempt on TV was appearing on Give Us A Clue for which I got paid the princely sum of £40,” she recalls. Sharron’s best-known role however is, probably, as the face of British swimming, adding expert insight and commentary to the BBC’s Olympic coverage. It’s Sharron who gets to speak first to the swimmers fresh out of the water poolside. She’s covered the Seoul, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London Olympics. The London Games was her 10th Olympiad as a competitor or broadcaster. “I’ve been with the BBC for 18 years. It hardly seems believable. I enjoy every minute of meeting and talking to the swimmers, especially when we Brits have won a medal.” It’s fair to say that the swimmers respond to Sharron – afterall, they know she is ‘one of them’. Having first swum for Britain at the age of just 11, she was selected for the 1976 Montreal Olympics and instantly became a household name. At only 14 she confirmed her talents by winning two European bronze medals – only losing out to the then all-conquering East Germans. But it was in 1978 that 15-year-old Sharron stormed to the first of her many successes, winning Commonwealth gold medals in both 200m and 400m Individual Medley events. In 1980 she took silver at the Moscow Olympics finishing just behind an East German swimmer who has since admitted that her performance was heavily drug enhanced. Twice voted British Press Sportswoman of the Year, Sharron’s incredible international career spanned three decades, included numerous major titles and medals and 200 British records, some of which still stand to this day. As patron of Disabled Sport England and The Sports Aid Foundation she devotes time to charity. She’s also a big supporter of the campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer. Her annual swimming event Swim For Life has become widely known. Launched 15 years ago with Princess Diana, it involves up to 2,000 pools nationwide and has raised millions of pounds for different causes.
HOPES FOR RIO
Sharron is looking forward to seeing what today’s generation of British swimmers can achieve at the Rio Olympics in August. “Right now British swimming is in a terrific place,” she says. “We have two world champions and many others who have won medals. We will do much better in Rio 2016 than we did at London 2012.” Win or lose, there’s one thing the swimmers can bet on – Sharron will be waiting to dive in, microphone in hand, poolside to deliver their first reactions to millions of watching sports fans back home.