• Where Are They Now?

Sharron Davies: Seeing the silver lining

Jo Carter July 28, 2011
Sharron Davies won an Olympic silver medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics © Getty Images

With one year to go before the world descends on London for the Olympics, the British team are hoping for a strong showing at the World Swimming Championships in Shanghai this week as an indicator of what to expect in the pool next summer.

We take a look back at the career of former Olympic silver medallist Sharron Davies, who was just 13 when she was selected for the British team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

"I don't really remember doing much else apart from swimming," Davies told ESPN. "I learnt to swim just like other kids at my local pool, but as I got older it became more and more important. Eventually the other sports got dropped. I was never really under pressure to swim as a youngster, but I was improving at a huge rate and I loved to compete.

"I am physically a perfect shape for swimming, and I guess I was fortunate to stumble upon it at a young age, and I had all the help and support I needed. It's a bit like making a cake - and even if you have all the right ingredients if you don't cook it at the right temperature or decorate it nicely it still won't work. You can have the talent but that alone is not enough."

Making her Olympic debut at the tender age of 13, Davies experienced firsthand the dominance of the East German women, who won all but two gold medals in the pool. While she may not have come away with a medal, Davies admits the experience was priceless.

"To be honest I don't think I was able to appreciate quite how special it was," Davies admits. "It was a fantastic experience for me and it meant that when I went to Moscow four years later I was not overwhelmed because it was not a brand new experience.

"When we got to Montreal the athletes' village was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. There were athletes of all shapes and sizes and everything was on a massive scale. It was my first experience of the East Germans, who would prove to be my nemeses all the way through my career - whether at the Olympics, the European or World Championships - the Commonwealth Games was the only time I ever got away from them!"

With an Olympic Games under her belt, Davies was clearly unfazed by the big stage as she claimed her first major medal at the 1977 European Championships - finishing behind the formidable Ulrike Tauber and Sabine Kahle in the 400m individual medley. The following year, with no East Germans to contend with, Davies blazed to Commonwealth gold in both the 200m and 400m IM events, leaving Edmonton with four medals after picking up a silver and bronze in the relays.

They looked like men, they sounded like men and they swam men's times - we knew what was going on.

Two years years later Davies competed under the Olympic flag in Moscow as Britain officially boycotted the Games in protest against the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

"I never really considered not competing in Moscow," Davies insisted. "I am a firm believer that sport and politics should not mix. It is ironic that all these years later we are in Afghanistan - it is such hypocrisy really.

"Sport should never be used as a tool to fight a political war. It brings the world together, and I believe Russia hosting the Games was a massive step forward. It was the same with China hosting the 2008 Olympics - it has a poor human rights record, but I believe they want to change and we have to embrace that."

Davies claimed silver finishing over ten seconds behind Petra Scheider, who smashed her own world record by nearly two seconds. Schneider later admitted to having taken steroids.

"It was not exactly a surprise," Davies said of Schneider's admission. "The East Germans were hugely successful at a huge host of sports - and we knew they were doping. They looked like men, they sounded like men and they swam men's times - we knew what was going on. It was extremely frustrating at the time.

Davies has enjoyed a successful media career since her retirement from swimming © Getty Images

"But I would never want Schneider's gold medal - they were victims of the system and forced to take dangerous drugs with horrendous side effects for a short term gain."

Despite having been a household name for four years, Davies was still a teenager when she returned home from Moscow with a silver medal. She announced her retirement from swimming to focus on her media career. Ironically, there were no East Germans at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as the Russians and East Germans boycotted the Games.

"I just wanted to be an 18-year-old - I needed time to do what a normal 18-year-old would do - I had been swimming for ten years by then," she said.

After eight years away from the sport, Davies returned to the pool, picking up more Commonwealth medals and competing at her third Olympics in as many decades at the 1992 Barcelona Games - 16 years after her Olympic debut.

"I decided I had unfinished business," Davies said. "So I got back in the pool and swam for four more years. I enjoyed it a lot more second time around - I think this time I was old enough to appreciate it more.

"I do sometime wonder 'what if' I had carried on competing. It would have been nice to have been in LA without the East Germans ," she admitted. "The Commonwealth record I set stood for eight years; there is no reason why I couldn't have bettered it, but I have no regrets and my Olympic medal is worth more than the others put together."

Since her official retirement in 1994, Davies' CV makes for impressive reading. From her appearances as Amazon on Gladiators to her recent performance in the reality TV show Dancing on Ice, Davies has been at every Olympics as poolside reporter.

With three children aged between 18 and four, Davies spends much of her time at home in the Cotswolds, but balances a successful media career with charity work and motivational speaking.

"I have been very lucky," she admits. "None of it was particularly orchestrated, but things just seemed to come my way. I have always embraced things and will give everything a go. Some things I have done were a mistake, but I learnt from my mistakes.

"Swimming has given me confidence to try things - that's something I have been able to take from my sport and use in the rest of my life, and I hope I can pass that onto my kids in life - I will always encourage them to give everything a go and to give 100 per cent

"I love my career - I am one of the first people the swimmers speak to when they get out of the pool - victorious or otherwise. It is a real privilege to be there and be part of it still."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk