‘The secret to swimming faster’: Young Australian swimmer turning to radical training methods

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The Australian backstroke champion whose career was marred by controversy last year has credited an unusual change to his swimming regime for his win at the World Championship trials.

Isaac Cooper, 19, returned to Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre on Wednesday after a year of setbacks, including a farcical technical error in December that denied the young swimmer a maiden world swimming shortcourse title.

“I chose to ignore what a lot of professionals are telling me to do,” Isaac Cooper said on Wednesday after winning the men’s 100m backstroke final at the World Championship trials. Credit: Getty

Cooper experienced his first setback – and subsequent media attention – in July when he was sent home from a training camp in Chartres in the lead-up to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

There is still mystery surrounding his departure from the camp, but Swimming Australia cited “wellbeing challenges including the misuse of medication” at the time of the incident. He did not face any further disciplinary action when he returned home.

In a post on Instagram that was later deleted, Cooper wrote: “My misuse of medication was not banned substances … It was ultimately my wellbeing and mental health that resulted in me going home.”

Then, at the World Shortcourse Championships in December, the 20-year-old was stripped of his first-place finish in the men’s 50-metre backstroke final – despite swimming a superior time than all his opponents – after a false start wasn’t communicated to the athletes.

“Life just keeps throwing shit at me,” a gutted Cooper told reporters that night.

But on Wednesday, the young swimmer had his redemption when he won the men’s 100m backstroke final in a time of 53.47s.

Cooper was ecstatic post-win, though he admitted he was on the verge of tears moments before the race.

“The last few weeks have been very stressful for me,” Cooper said. “I made a very drastic change to my program where I chose to ignore what a lot of professionals are telling me to do.”

Unlike most swimmers, who can get through as many as 80 kilometres per week in the pool, Cooper is only chalking up “14 kilometres a week”. He has traded conventional hours up and down the back line with surfing, mixed martial arts and tennis.

“I’ve been using those [sports] as training sessions, as opposed to coming in and doing the same old four to six [kilometre], eight sessions a week that I’ve been doing since I was seven years old,” he said.

Cooper said there were sessions where he swam “insanely well” since he switched the regime, but until the trials had not tested its success in a racing setting.

“All the people who said ‘this isn’t going to work, don’t do this’ – they’re all wrong,” Cooper said. “My instinct was right.

“The secret to swimming faster is swimming less.”

Cooper missed out on Swimming Australia’s qualifying time for the event by 0.46 of a second; however, it’s likely selectors will still allow him to swim the event at the world championships in Fukuoka next month.

It will be the first time Cooper has competed overseas for Australia since he was sent home from the training camp.

Cooper has been forthright about his mental health on social media and in interviews, and on Wednesday told reporters he planned to speak out on Instagram.

“My mental health this year has not been good. It’s been very, very bad actually. But the last two months … I’ve really come out of it,” he said.

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