On this episode of the #AskASwimPro Show, we chatted with Michael Gunning, a Jamaican national swimmer based in the United Kingdom. He specializes in the 200 Butterfly, and has his eyes set on the 2021 Games in Tokyo.

Photo via Clayten Fowler

We caught up with Michael during his 16th week out of the pool due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out how he’s staying motivated and his advice for maintaining a positive attitude, no matter what!

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Swimming Background

Michael’s parents weren’t strong swimmers, but that didn’t stop them from pushing their two sons into the sport at age 4 or 5. Michael was pretty reluctant to start swimming at first, but soon his love for the water blossomed — and he even began to love early morning practices!

Michael has dual citizenship in the United Kingdom and Jamaica. He was born and raised in the U.K. but his father was born in Jamaica. For most of his junior swimming career and part of his senior career, Michael represented Team GB. In 2016, he chose to start representing the Jamaican team, competing in the 2017 and 2019 World Championships.

Overcoming Challenges

Michael reflected on one of his first competitions as a Team GB swimmer in 2010 — he qualified for the 10k open water race for the LEN Open Water Cup in Rome. He had never swum a 10k before and was excited to compete.

After only 6.6k, Michael got hypothermia and was pulled out of the race. He was disappointed and embarrassed to have not finished the race, but used the experience as motivation to keep improving. The hard work paid off: the following year, he won gold in the same race! 

Ready for Tokyo

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were definitely on Michael’s radar before the pandemic hit. When the games were postponed to 2021, he adjusted his mindset and training to keep Tokyo in his sights. He’s doing his best to enjoy the process, despite all the changes 2020 has brought. 

Setting Goals in a Pandemic

In the first few weeks after the pandemic hit the U.K., it was challenging for Michael to stay motivated. After the initial shock subsided, he wrote down exactly what he’d do every day to keep himself accountable, including when he’d wake up and when he’d do his workouts. According to Michael, setting a goal, no matter how small, can help keep you focused and positive!

Courtesy of Michael Gunning’s YouTube Channel

Even though dryland training has never been his favorite, Michael has had a good time mixing up his routine and trying new things, including running, biking and dryland workouts with bands.

His favorite dryland workouts simulate swim strokes — he’s been loving resistance band exercises and core work!

In addition to creating a structured daily routine, it helped Michael to know that the whole world is in this together — we’re all struggling to cope with a global crisis that has forced us to get creative and adapt. 

Being a Role Model

As a black, gay man, Michael has a unique opportunity to be a powerful role model. He doesn’t take this position lightly, and hopes to show other swimmers that no matter your gender, your race or your sexuality, you can compete. He enjoys breaking barriers, trying new things and showing the world what he can do.

From an early age, Michael was told that black people can’t swim, and he didn’t see many swimmers who looked like him growing up. He also struggled with his sexuality, feeling that he couldn’t truly be himself on the pool deck. 

Michael highlights the importance of a strong support system as an elite swimmer. His team and his coaches have helped shape him into the confident athlete and person we see today. Ultimately, though, he has his parents to thank for his success. If they hadn’t pushed him to start swimming and encouraged him to be true to himself, he wouldn’t be where he is now!

Advocating for Diversity in Swimming

As a black man, Michael has been especially aware of the Black Lives Matter movement, noting that he has been extremely lucky to not have experienced racism growing up. When he was swimming for Team GB, he was one of the only black swimmers on the team, but he says he was never treated differently.

Michael drove home the importance of listening to others’ stories, educating yourself about injustice, and speaking up for yourself and others when you see racism or injustice happening. The swimming community is very close-knit, and everyone has each other’s back. He says it’s great to see how the sport has grown and embraced people of so many different backgrounds in recent years.

Michael’s Advice for Swimmers

Whether you run into Michael at a swim meet or spend just a few seconds on his Instagram feed, you’ll see that he always has a big smile on his face. 

Michael encourages swimmers to stay positive through the ups and downs of life. Do things in your own time and don’t worry about pressure from others. Stay true to yourself and your goals, and don’t rush anything. If you’re happy with yourself, others will sense that and be happy around you, too!

Life After Swimming

After he hangs up his suit for the last time, Michael would love to work with children. He wants to give back to the younger generation and inspire young people however he can.

Follow Michael on Instagram at @michaelgunning1 or subscribe to his YouTube channel!


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