Wakefield swimming sensation Leah Crisp is already making waves at senior level after claiming two gold medals and a silver at the British Swimming Championships in Glasgow. The 17-year-old, who is currently supported by SportsAid, stormed to the 800m freestyle and 1500m freestyle titles while also securing second place in the 400m freestyle.
Leah surpassed her own expectations by reaching the podium on three separate occasions and can now start to consider the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as a realistic target. The two-time Commonwealth Youth Games champion also has ambitions in open water swimming and competed in her first meet of the year just a few weeks ago in the LEN Cup in Israel.
Here, Leah reflects on her recent successes, looks ahead to future competitions, and emphasises the importance of her family’s support....
How did you feel after returning from the British Swimming Championships? Did you have expectations going into the races?
“I felt really pleased with my swims in Glasgow and coming home from that week with two golds and a silver gave me a significant confidence boost going into the rest of this season. I certainly didn’t have the expectations to come away the medals I did. I knew I would be capable of posting some personal best times from how I’d been training, but didn’t expect the week to pan out as it did.”
Do you have certain distances you prefer to compete in? Do your ambitions in open water swimming still remain?
“I certainly prefer the longer distances, from 400m upwards, even though I do really enjoy competing in 400m free since I find I can pace this race really well and enjoy the type of race it is. As for open water, I am still looking to compete in these events, I completed my first 10km swim at an LEN Cup event in Israel a few weeks ago. I found this race very challenging, being my first open water swim in over a year, but this season I’m looking to give open water another go to see what I can do.”
How have you found the step up to the senior ranks? What have you felt are the main differences?
“Personally, I have found the step up to senior ranks in the pool relatively smooth, since I had already competed in a few national senior finals before, but I can definitely tell the difference with how the heats are much more competitive, meaning you have to swim much faster to get a central lane in the final. You can also see the difference of how races tend to be swum more tactically, younger swimmers tend to just go out fast and try to keep going, but as you get older it definitely becomes more important to have a thought-out race plan.”
Are there particular inspirations or sporting heroes you’ve looked up to over the years? What qualities do they have that you admire?
“I’ve had sporting heroes within the swimming world, such as Katie Ledecky due to her remarkable achievements which I admire, and also Jazz Carlin, not just due to her achievements, but also due to how approachable and down to earth she is. But some of my biggest inspirations are my parents, who are amongst the most hardworking and positive people I know.”
What have been the key achievements of your career in swimming so far? And what are your main aims for the year ahead?
“I’d say my key achievements in my career so far have been my first selection for a GB junior team, as this gave me a lot of motivation, my medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games, and then my first British senior medals from April this year alongside becoming Leeds Young Sportswoman of the Year earlier. My main aims for the rest of this season are to further improve my times achieved in the British Summer Championships, and to compete in the Great North Swim to hopefully secure myself a spot on the European Junior open water team, and then see what I can do there!”
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far? And what is your main long-term ambition?
“The biggest challenge I have faced was having a knee injury which required surgery, meaning I spent the first month or so of my 2018/19 season on crutches, which meant I missed out on our pre-season training camp, so I started that season in October significantly behind where I should’ve been fitness wise. But I came back from this to qualify for the European junior team and come sixth in the 400m free final at that meet. My main long-term ambition is certainly to make senior teams and final and medal at major meets, with the ultimate goal being to make an Olympic team.”
Which experiences have you learnt the most from up to now? How much did you take away from competing at the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas in 2017?
“The experiences I’ve learnt most from have been the ones which haven’t gone to plan, as these teach you where you can improve and teach you to be able to bounce back and to not lose confidence in your swimming. I’d say the main thing I took away from the Commonwealth Youth Games was confidence, as this was my first international meet where I performed how I wanted to and I learnt it was because I thought confidently, rather than feeling almost intimidated by the other girls in the call room, and since then I have approached all my races with confidence in my own ability, and not worrying about the others in the race.”
What difference has the support from SportsAid made to you?
“SportsAid has definitely made a huge difference to me and my family from a financial perspective, with it helping to relieve the pressures of the costs of elite level sport. However, knowing that someone has the confidence in you to provide you with a SportsAid award is certainly a welcome confidence boost to keep working hard and striving for your goals.”
Which other commitments do you have to balance alongside swimming?
“My main commitment to balance alongside my swimming is my studies. I am currently in my first year of sixth form and am studying maths, physics and economics A-Levels as well as doing an EPQ. This is a lot of work by itself, so sometimes it is challenging to balance this alongside my swimming and things can seem stressful, but over the years I’ve developed strong time-management skills to help me cope with the workload. I currently don’t have any particular hobbies outside of swimming, I just try and relax and spend time with family and friends when I’m not working or swimming.”
Lastly, how important has the support of your family and coach been to you in pursuing your sporting ambitions?
“The support of those around me such as my family and coach have been vital to me achieving what I have. Without my parents and grandparents being there to take me to training day in day out (until I can drive!) I would not be able to swim at the level that I am doing. Also, without them being there to support me through the ups and downs I would find it very hard to stay as determined and committed as I am. Without the support of my coach, Richard Denigan, and the rest of the coaching staff at City of Leeds SC it would be almost impossible to be where I am today, its great to have a support network around you at the pool who support your swimming but are also there to listen about other things which may be affecting you and always do their best to help you through. It is also great to have a coach who believes in your ability to perform as this helps me believe in myself that I can achieve my goals. It is also worth noting that without the support the club receives from the council, we wouldn’t have access to the top facilities which we use every day, which play a huge part in the success of the club and helping us all achieve our goals.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Leah can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.