We sat down for a chat with our very first Swimtraxx ambassador, Pieter Timmers. We talked about life in lockdown, the Olympics, new international competitions and his future.
Pieter is without a doubt the best Belgian swimmer since Fred Deburghgraeve waved the swimming world goodbye. His achievements speak for themselves. He made his World Championship debut in 2011 in Shanghai, after which he left Eindhoven to join team BRABO in Antwerp. That same year, Pieter broke the national records for the 100m and 200m freestyle. 2012 was a year of success as he made his Olympic debut. He reached the finals with the 4x100m freestyle relay team and broke the national record for 100m freestyle during his individual race. That same year he took home 2 medals during the European Championships as well. In 2014 he had to fight back while recovering from lung surgery and managed to secure yet another European Championship medal. In the Rio 2016 Olympics, he swam his way into the Belgian Olympic history books by finishing second in the 100m freestyle final with a new national record. He is only the fifth Belgian swimmer to win an Olympic medal.
Pieter Timmers during practice.
First of all, Pieter, how are you?
I’m fine, thanks. I’m healthy and that is the most important thing, especially these days!
How do you keep yourself busy during these strange times and with all the pools closed?
As the Olympics won’t be happening this summer, I had 2 weeks off, but it didn’t really feel like a holiday I must say (laughs). I took the time to work in my new home and to take care of my almost 3-year-old daughter. Her school is also closed so she stays at home and is a hand full. She joined me to a couple of video workouts: sometimes fun, sometimes extremely heavy (laughs).
Are you into some other sports now that swimming is put on hold?
Unfortunately not. Watching sports is difficult as almost everything is shut down and about doing another sport: working out during renovation works, does that count? (laughs).
Of course, swimming is the main focus and has been for a long time. How did you get into swimming and where did it all start?
It started at ‘De Beringse Tuimelaars’, in a 20-meter pool, when I was a 4-year-old. That was my first club in Limburg, Belgium, where I stayed until I turned 21: quite a unique story as a lot of swimmers become professionals in their teenage years already. But I just swam for fun and to spend time with my friend. Until I was 18 and I realised I swam almost as fast as the fastest Belgians who trained 30 hours in the top sport school, while I just swam max 6 hours per week. I decided to get my bachelor's degree first and moved to the Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven) afterwards to train fulltime. With result because my times became better and better in a short period of time. After 2 years I moved to Belgium again to train with Ronald Gaastra, Olympic medal winning coach, and 1 year later I already qualified for the Olympics in London. I placed 12th in the 100 freestyle and with the relay team 4x100 we finished 8th.
That is quite an unusual story! But it seems that the career path you took really paid off because you have achieved a lot in the sport, what would you say is your career highlight so far?
For sure my silver medal in the 100m freestyle at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016!
Glad you’ve brought up the Olympics because they were all over the news the last few weeks. What is your take on the fact that the Olympics have been postponed?
It tough for me as the Olympics would be my last race. So, this decision has a major impact on my life and agenda. But I understand the decision. Health goes first and I’m happy to be healthy.
One thing that will resume soon is training. You must have done a lot of different types of training in your career. Which type of training is your favourite?
That’s easy. It has to be a sprint training with vertical kicks combined with making turns and under water kicks.
And your least favourite?
An anaerobic training followed by 4x1000.
While we’re talking about training: How important do you think new technology can be for swimmer's preparation for the Olympics next year?
I think the difference can be made by using new technology. Everybody started being well prepared for the Olympics this summer so thanks to postponing the Olympics, swimmers have more than one year extra to finetune everything and to gather lots of information about their technique in order to improve every detail. In swimming, every hundred of a second counts as that can really make the difference in winning gold or becoming 6th.
Speaking of new technology, which influence do you think Swimtraxx One will have on your workouts and results? And on the swimming world in general?
Swimtraxx One really is an asset and is my second coach. The extra information I can gather with the Swimtraxx One, will help me to finetune really every move and stroke. Thanks to Swimtraxx I will be able to monitor my heartrate during sets so I can train specifically in specific heartrate zones.
"Swimtraxx One really is my second coach."
And what about the design itself? The feel, the look, …
It’s very easy to strap on, which is a must I think as swimmers will be using the device multiple times a day. And once it’s put on, it’s comfortable and it stays in place. And not unimportant: it’s a very pretty design.
Why did you decide to become an ambassador for Swimtraxx?
The question should be: why not? Why not be the face of a product that helps swimmers to become even better, and maybe the best?
As we are innovators our self, we are always happy to see the sport evolve more and more thanks to new competition formats such as the ISL. As you have competed in the first ever edition of the ISL, how do you look back on it?
Really good. It was about time swimming became professionalised the way other sports are. Like the Diamond League in athletics and the Champions League in soccer. Swimmers train their asses off, and really get rewarded for that through the ISL. Thanks to ISL, swimming can evolve, and athletes get even more credit and respect for living their lives the way they do.
Racing in the ISL looks fun and exciting, with the new season coming up you can end on a fun note. Although, you must be looking forward to it with mixed feelings?
Not really, all fun to me! Looking forward to both, racing again at the ISL and to the end of my swimming career. It's been a long run and I'm happy and grateful for all the opportunities I got and the choices I made. Now it's time for a new chapter and some more quality time with the family.
After the announcement of your retirement it seems that the European Championships in Budapest will be your last big tournament. What are your expectations and goals, given the current circumstances and perhaps the lack of preparation?
It's difficult to look forward to Europeans as we don't know yet if the event will be scheduled as planned now due to the Covid19-crisis. Last month I couldn't swim because the pools were closed, so that's not really the best position to start with. But I think almost every swimmer had the same problem last month. Today I started training again, but it's hard to say after only one day what I will be able to do in the pool in August. I dream of the gold medal. I won already 10 medals at Europeans but he only one missing is a gold one. Last Europeans I was in a very good shape and gold was achievable, but the night before leaving for Europeans, I suffered from meningitis and I had to spend the week in the hospital. Now I'm out for revenge.
If you could handpick the 100m freestyle finalists in Budapest, who would be there with you?
Can we expect huge celebrations after your last race?
The Flemisch Swimming Federation will organise something to honor me and for myself: I'm not a party animal that will be out drinking and clubbing immediately. But for sure I will spend time with my friends and family next year.
We only have one more question. What does the future hold for Pieter Timmers?
That's a good question. As long as I will be swimming, there is just no time to think about that. When I swim, I'm 100% into that and nothing else matters. But I'm sure everything will fall into place. And I'm not going to quit training immediately, because that would be very unhealthy after years and years of topsport.
Thank you for your time Pieter! We are looking forward to seeing you back in the pool with a Swimtaxx One right by your side.