The golden girl of the pool, Halsall… and a hero of the 1948 London Olympics
23:01 GMT, 17 April 2012
They are Olympians who span the generations: one a swimmer who graced the first post-war Games in London in 1948, the other hoping to light up the pool this summer.
Fran Halsall, 22, clocked the fastest time in the world this year when she won the 100m freestyle at the GB Olympic trials. But could she learn anything from Ron Stedman, Britain’s leading 100m freestyle swimmer when London last hosted the games in 1948 Ron, 84, reached the semi-finals back then and still swims two or three times a week.
Sportsmail got them together to share their stories, their experiences and their training regimes. They met at Fran’s Loughborough base where Ron trained ahead of the 1948 Games.
MATT LAWTON asked the occasional question, but for the most part, he just listened in…
In the swim: Fran Halsall, who is used to public exposure as an Olympic athlete, meets Ron Stedman (far
right) whose 1948 experience was
MATT LAWTON: Talk us through your training regime Ron.
RON STEDMAN: I was called up for the army in 1946, so I had a job to do — I was involved with port security, based down in Dover most of the time — so serious training was probably limited to an hour a day, three or four days a week. But being in Dover allowed me to use the 25-yard pool at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School. I didn’t have a coach, and time was limited as to how much I could do. The only real coaching I received was when I was eight or nine-years-old. After that it was pretty much down to me.
LAWTON: How about you Fran
FRAN HALSALL: In a week I do 10 two-and-a-half hour swims, three 90-minute to two-hour weight sessions, a couple of Pilates sessions and I run once or twice a week for a bit of cross training, for extra toning of the legs.
Great expectations: Halsall will be going for Gold at the Games
HALSALL: But I don’t have to do a job. And I have a coach, and a training group.
STEDMAN: Would you mind if I ask you what you eat
HALSALL: We have a dietician who pretty much tells us what to eat. I like my chocolate mini eggs and nothing beats a pizza on a Friday night. But it’s mainly protein with some carbs, making sure I get my veg. The dietician’s also big into his green tea. What about you
STEDMAN: We had food rationing in England through to 1953, so there was a limit to how much protein you could get. I’ve got my ration recipe book here. You could have 4oz of bacon a week, one and tuppence worth of meat. In today’s terms that would be less than 1lb of meat, in weight. We could have 1lb of jam every other month.
HALSALL: So no mini eggs then
STEDMAN: No. We would get one normal egg when it was available. Although you did get 2oz of sweets a week.
HALSALL: Look at that! A recipe for beetroot pudding. Good grief! How did you train
STEDMAN: For all those pre-selected for the Olympics there was an extra ration card, so I did have two ration cards. In my house it went into the family budget, so how much of it I actually got I’m not really sure. I also played rugby, hockey, cricket and water polo. I think we probably had more fun. It wasn’t quite so serious.
HALSALL: We have our skin fold (a test for fat) done every four weeks, so they can check we are not getting too fat or too skinny.
LAWTON: You are not everyone’s idea of a sprinter Fran! Most people would expect someone, well, bigger.
HALSALL: I’ve not got much muscle, have I!
LAWTON: So how come you are so fast
HALSALL: I don’t know. I didn’t want to do 800m. So boring! So 100m became my thing. I think it comes down to technique and power-to-weight ratio. I’m not that heavy but what I can do compared to my weight is pretty good. I can bench press more than I weigh. I can deadlift 100kg. I can bench-press 65kg when I weigh 60kg. I do chins too. Like I say, compared to my weight I am fairly strong. Do you think, Ron, swimmers look different now Have their physiques changed much
STEDMAN: I don’t think there has been an enormous change. We didn’t do weight training and we had no coaches. I’m not sure the technique has changed that much. Watching it I certainly can’t see much difference, except that you’re much quicker than we were. You guys can do 100m flat out. In my day I think we probably had to pace ourselves more. The fitness levels today are much higher.
LAWTON: The turns have changed, haven’t they Ron And back then you guys didn’t wear goggles.
STEDMAN: In my day you had to touch the end of the bath with your hand. Today you touch with your feet. The turn was slower. And no, there were no goggles. I don’t think they had been invented.
HALSALL: I wouldn’t be able to swim with my eyes open without goggles. Did you have a national championships, Ron
Making a splash: Halsall won the national 100m championship in impressive style on her last outing at the Aquatics Centre in Stratford
STEDMAN: We did. I was beaten in 1947 and, while I’d still like to congratulate the fellow who beat me, it was an open air pool in Hastings with the sea coming over the wall. On that particular day it was like swimming in open water, it was so windy. The race was a 100-yard straight, you couldn’t really see where you were going in the dark water and I got beaten on the touch. But I won it in ‘48 and ‘49.
LAWTON: Just how big a deal was the Olympics in 48 Was much made of it on television
STEDMAN: I appeared on the television, just for a few seconds. I qualified for the semi-final and I remember giving a brief interview. There was not a lot of media but it did seem big at the time. I’m not sure the British swimmers were really ready for it. We weren’t used to swimming 100m. We raced over 100 yards. We hadn’t trained in a 50m pool. In the Olympics I swam 1min 01sec. The American, Walter Ris, won it in 57.3sec. I did go on to swim 59.1 in Copenhagen.
HALSALL: Was there an Olympic village, Ron
STEDMAN: Not really. We came here, to Loughborough, before the games and then moved into services accommodation in Uxbridge. I think it was an RAF barracks. I was staying in a dormitory for around 20 people.
HALSALL: Twenty! I’m not sure I could cope with that. I will share a room with Lizzie Simmonds. In Beijing we had six of us in a three-bedroom apartment with a living room and a TV.
STEDMAN: I believe the whole cost of the games in 1948 was 800,000.
LAWTON: Is there more pressure because it is London
HALSALL: We are under the microscope a bit more, but that doesn’t mean there’s more pressure. I put enough pressure on myself to do well. Since Becky (Adlington) won two golds in 2008, the girls have been winning medals, so people are expecting a lot of us. But that is fair enough because we have done well in the major championships since Beijing. I expect Manchester United to win because they have won their games before. It’s no different for us.
LAWTON: Compared to Ron’s day, indeed compared to the days of Duncan Goodhew and David Wilkie, where have the advances been made
HALSALL: The sport always moves on. People are training with MP3 players with music designed to help with their stroke rate and their flow and rhythm. We do lots of floating, which sounds really weird but it’s about movement in the water. We tie sponges to our ankles. Ron didn’t have a coach. Today we might talk to a coach in America and find out what he’s doing. I’m going to try sleeping in an altitude tent. In Australia they have an altitude house! I learnt to swim seriously at eight or nine. I was desperate to compete and swimming is one of the few sports they would let you compete in at that age. I went to an athletics club first, but they said I’d have to wait a couple of years before I could race. So I went to a swimming club where I could start racing straight away.
STEDMAN: That sounds familiar.
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