Swimmer – Andrew Bree
Sport Northern Ireland funded athlete Andrew Bree will become a two time Olympian when he dives into the pool at the Water Cube in Beijing. It’s eight years since his first appearance as a 19 year-old in Sydney and by his own admission he’s a more mature swimmer, in and out of the pool.
“Obviously I thought I knew it all in Sydney. Very wrong. It was a great experience and it definitely made me want to continue to bring my swimming to another level. I know what the Games involve regarding food, transport, accommodation. All the Commonwealth Games have helped in this too. It’s another competition in my world, no added attachment to the Olympic label. I know how many distractions there are, and I know how to handle all the hype and excitement better. Smarter, faster and wiser eight years on,” he explained.
It was the following year that the Helen’s Bay man made the move to the USA and to the University of Tennessee and being involved in the NCAA collegiate system turned his career around. Bree says, “It’s taught me the following… Don't ever give up. Fight the good fight. Become a man. Learn from everything, every scenario, every person, every race, every practice, and every conversation. Learn, and be in alignment with what you want to do, swimming, work whatever. If it doesn't feel right, you're off course. If there are obstacles, they will pass. Everything flows continuously, all day, all night, never stops. Find your passion, live it and love it. That's what I've learnt and that’s not necessarily taught. The NCAA gives you the opportunity to race fast, the facilities and coaching are some of the best in the world. The team creates friends and support. The system works but it also crushes some kids. It is what you make it. You can excel in it or struggle in it. I've done both and I'm still figuring it out. It’s a stepping stone onto greater things. I have no regrets about making the move, to improve in anything you have to surround yourself with the best.”
As the decade has worn on Bree has shown he can be the man for the big occasion. At the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and again in Melbourne in 2006 he finished fifth in the final of the 200m breaststroke but in between he missed out on selection for the Athens Olympics in 2004 by less than half a second.
Four years on and he feels like he has nothing to prove.
“No, I feel very confident in the work I've done. I've never worked this hard and this smart for anything in my life. It’s such a wasted emotion and energy to get caught up in trying to prove something. Who to? The only person doing the thing is myself and I’m entering the games with smiles, with a feeling that all is good. I am doing and I am being everything I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. It’s a gut instinct and a good one. Focusing on external things like proving something or wondering what other people think will only end in disappointment. The ego can drag you down some ugly, ugly paths. I've been there and I know when it tries something similar. I smile now when I catch it in the act.”
Bree made the ‘A’ time for Beijing at the US championships in Indiana last summer posting a new Irish record in the 200m breaststroke of 2:13.14. He was beaten by American Brendan Hansen who won bronze in Athens and is a former world record holder but he won’t be in Beijing after failing to come through the US Trials. Current Olympic champion Kosuke Kitijima of Japan will be the favourite.
“Breaststroke is a crazy event. You're on, you're off,” says Bree. “Timing and rhythm are key, you lose yourself in those and you're going to hurt. Bad. Only Hansen knows what happened. He's the second fastest swimmer in the world and I respect him. I learn from him. Who else can you learn from if not the best? He'll go fast in the 100 and I wish him the best. It doesn't affect me cause swimming is your lane and that's it. There are unlimited things that can't be controlled. Other competitors are one of those things,” he added. So Bree arrives in Beijing, now 27 years old and swimming better than he has ever done. As he points out, “Britain’s Mark Foster is 38 years old and still breaking records and going to his fifth Olympics.”
His passion and desire are there for everyone to see.
“Keep learning on a daily basis. That’s twice every day I pickup something new to add to my swimming knowledge. I read more about it, I study it, I live it. I've put down the swimming accelerator to the floor because I know it only lasts a few years. After it, I can say I've covered all there was to cover. But right now, I’m only scraping the surface in terms of body awareness, feel for the water etc, my mind is very focused and I love it more than ever. It’s a true passion, something that will be hard to replace when done. How often can you physically and mentally take it to the extreme limits within a sport on almost a daily basis? I feel super human some days and adapt on other days. Everything in life is in cycles and so to experience it and feel that feeling is unbeatable. As I get older, I'm getting stronger, body and mind, always learning, always wanting to learn.”
Undoubtedly Bree will be looking for a new Irish record in his favourite event, the 200m breaststroke. If he does that he may not be far off a final appearance which would be a phenomenal achievement. He’ll also swim in the 100m event as a warm-up.
“Swim faster than I have before but again, I don't attach myself to anything future or anything past. Races are races. Swimming is swimming. Some people want things, some people demand things and then beat themselves up mentally for days or even years over past results. When I race, I'm putting together everything I've worked on and if that equals a final, a semi final or a fast heat swim. That is what it is.”