Duncan Goodhew training ()Duncan Goodhew training () © Copyright

Duncan Goodhew on books, baldness and bad days

Iconic Olympic gold medallist Duncan Goodhew, 58, looks back on his career and tells us what he learnt about books, baldness and having a bad day in Been There Won That

I was very headstrong when I was 18. A typical 18 year old. Prior to the Montreal Olympics I phoned my mother from the States, where I was at university, and said, ‘Have you booked your tickets to Montreal?’ She said, ‘They haven’t announced the team, don’t be so cocky.’ I made my debut for Team GB in the heats of the 100m breaststroke at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal – in front of the Queen – and broke the Olympic record.

I found myself with seven of the fastest people in the world. And myself. Ahead of the final I went to the call room and we were in there for what felt like an eternity, 20-40 minutes. I looked around at the gods of my sport and said to myself, ‘I don’t feel so well.’ I came seventh. It took me a good 3 ½ years to get my head right after that experience.

Duncan Goodhew Gold medal ()


Winning is a product of your inherent talent, your experience, your psychological tenacity and maybe it’s a little spiritual too. If you think, ‘I’m little Duncan from East Sussex, I trip over my shoelaces, I spill soup on my tie, Why me? there’s 7.5bn people on the planet, why should I be the best in the world?’ They’re difficult questions to answer. You first have to prove physically you can do it, you’ve got to prove psychologically you can do it, and you’ve got to believe that it’s your ticket at the end of it.

I was dyslexic and then I lost my hair at 11, and I struggled with it, particularly in my teens. People stared at me everywhere I went. But the silver lining has been massive, because I kind of used it to justify the swimming: I don’t have to shave down, I’m already aquadynamic.

Duncan Goodhew stretching ()


You’re only as good as your worst day. So what I’d advise everybody is train your hardest on your worst days and enjoy the good days, because you can’t afford a bad day, because you can’t have a bad hour, because you can’t have a bad minute, because some other person has picked that minute that you have to be excellent at.

They were glancing at me thinking: ‘he must have gone doolally’. In the call room in Moscow [prior to winning 1980 Olympic gold] I thought, I must control my emotions and not allow my mind to wander. So I decided to go into the corner of the room and sit down on the floor. And everybody was a bit surprised because nobody back then did that. So I took a Wilbur Smith book out of my pocket. I had the presence of mind to check it was the right way round and I started reading, and that kept me calm, which was the primary aim of it.

Over the top of the book I noticed people glance at me too often, and, you could almost see the bubble out of the side of their mouth like in a comic: ‘Doesn’t he know what’s going on? It’s the Olympic Games! Why is he reading a book?’ And at that point, I knew that all I had to do to win was tie my swimsuit.


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