Stephen Clegg is opening up about his mental health in swimming

·4-min read
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Men's 100m Butterfly - S12 Final - Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - September 3, 2021. Stephen Clegg of Britain in action REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (Kim Kyung Hoon / reuters)

Three-time Paralympic medallist Stephen Clegg has revealed his mental health battles and how personal pressure left him searching for answers after Tokyo 2020.

The Newcastleton swimmer will head to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games after a challenging year out of the pool.

Clegg has been on a mission to fall back in love with the sport that helped him through a journey of rebirth after he struggled with anxiety throughout school.

Tokyo was meant to be the final answer, but with a silver in his favoured S12 100m Butterfly, the world record holder was left heartbroken.

He said: "Tokyo was a very rollercoaster week for me. On one hand I overachieved in the two events that I got the bronze medals in, the backstroke and the freestyle - I wasn't expecting that.

"But then on the other hand I was going there with a target to win the 100m Butterfly and I fell short so that was pretty devastating to say the least.

"It was pretty challenging coming off the back of the Games and I wasn't sure where I stood with my career and whether I wanted to continue.

"I felt like I had given everything I had those five years going into Tokyo and I still fell short of what I thought I was capable of and am capable of and it was pretty challenging to process that."

Clegg revealed that he had been putting a lot of pressure on himself in the lead up to Tokyo which led to a high expectation in the pool.

He added: "I felt my entire journey had been leading up to that race specifically and that I had something I really needed to prove to myself.

"It was supposed to be this rebirth of me as the reason I got into sport was to rebuild my character.

"I went to school and had a lot of anxiety and a lot of pressure and didn't really like who I was and as I started swimming, I started to feel better about myself.

"And as Tokyo was approaching, I was building up this fairytale ending of winning a gold medal in a world record time and that being my coming out to the world as this new version of myself.

"But on the day, I just remember feeling this unbelievable weight on my shoulders and I felt heavy.

"This year's been about changing my relationship with the sport and making sure I'm enjoying it before anything else."

This summer, Team Scotland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise of over 250 athletes, and having secured his place on the squad, Clegg is looking for medal success.

Clegg's journey back to the top has already reaped reward as the 26-year-old became a two-time World Champion in June just 13 days after testing positive for Covid.

With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Clegg hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

The swimmer took gold in the S12 100m Butterfly and S12 100m Backstroke in a new personal best time and is banking on his recent success carrying on into Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games.

He said: "When I went into it, I had zero expectation to do well at all and because I went in with that relaxed mindset and no real pressure to perform, I ended up doing extremely well.

"It was a pretty great experience for me and is the best result I've had in my swimming career so far.

"Being in the worst physical shape I had been in because I hadn't been training and I was still struggling a little bit with some of the longer effects of Covid in breathing and fatigue.

"So, it proved once again that as long as I'm relaxed and not putting pressure on myself I can still perform.

Clegg is one of over than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science, and medical support.

He continues, "It's a first for me going to the Commonwealth's, obviously going to two Paralympics already and it will be nice to get anyway with a different team and different coaches as well.

"Team Scotland are very good at creating a very inclusive atmosphere and environment.

"Even though AB and para don't cross over very much I would say that Team Scotland are very good at creating relationships between the two different worlds are we're very integrated in terms of that area."

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