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News > Alumni news > Ian Wynne (Class of 1990) tells of his Olympic odyssey

Ian Wynne (Class of 1990) tells of his Olympic odyssey

We can't all compete at competitive level sport, but we can all learn how to achieve of our best. Ian tells us how he went from junior sporting activities to standing on an Olympic podium.

We catch up with Ian Wynne (Class of 1990) whose journey since leaving TWGSB has included competitive sport at National, European, World Cup and Olympic level (swimming at national level as a teenager and winning an Olympic medal in sprint canoe in 2004), setting a world record for crossing the English Channel in a kayak in 2007, elite coaching of world-class athletes and 20 years exploring and developing human potential.  Now Director of Research and Human Performance for ProBiometrics, we find out how Ian developed his high performance mindset.

Ian, where did your passion for sport come from? Were you a sport team captain at school and did you excel in any sports whilst at TWGSB? 

I participated in sport at school, both rugby and cross-country and was part of a peer group of committed athletes, but my main passion at that stage was swimming.  I used to train every morning with Monson Swimming Club at the sports centre next to the school, do my homework and then walk across the car park to school.

I was fortunate in that the school supported my sporting commitments and allowed me to leave some games lessons for training.  As well as having that understanding and acceptance of my specific requirements, the teachers fostered my rounded approach to sport and competition and I am thankful to them for that.

You were obviously committed to sport from early-on, knowing what you now know about human potential, what characteristics are required at a young age to achieve at an elite level?

Enjoying the particular activity is very important, but to succeed at elite level it is important to know that whilst it is enjoyable you must also accept the fact that it will also be very challenging.  That means you don’t stop every time it gets hard.  My games teachers and coaches both supported and challenged me to keep me interested in sport and it is important to have that balanced environment.

You also need a vision of where you are going.  When I was 12 or 13, I knew that I wanted to compete in the Olympic Games and I was entranced by that. You don’t have to know HOW you will get there, but you need to know that you WANT to.  Being captivated by that idea helps shape decision making.

Can you tell us how it felt to win an Olympic medal and how does your Olympic experience continue to influence your perspective today?

There were a whole raft of emotions but obviously it was hugely satisfying and I was elated.  It was also a relief that all the hard work of my 15 year journey had paid off.  I had started with a vision and there were huge challenges on the way, but the achievement reinforced my belief that whilst something may be taxing, if you put in the effort and push through the challenge it will be worth it.

This idea of being empowered to take risks for potential reward has shaped other areas of my life, such as me now being in a start-up company and making big decisions and life choices rather than just settling for something more straightforward.

How did you transition into coaching and the psychological performance side of sport?

From a young age, psychology was always a clear interest of mine and I did an A level in it. I always felt that my physical ability was ok, but not exceptional, but my psychological attitude made up for that when competing against other physically superior people.

I also wanted to take what I had learnt from sport and from all the people who have developed me and give that knowledge to another generations of athletes, so it was always going to happen that I would move into coaching in some format or other.  I didn’t retire from sport and move straight into coaching though, I spent some time getting real life experience and a sense of perspective of the business side of sport, by working on a business with my girlfriend (now wife) for a few years.

Can you tell us a little about your time at TWGSB and (how) did your studies help prepare you for your future career and life?

That’s an interesting one!  I was an average student at school, because I was totally focused on sports, but TWGSB developed an interest in learning and an understanding of what I needed to do to get through.  I am now way more academic that I was at school and am constantly researching and learning new materials for my work.

I wasn’t a perfect student, but what I took away from school was a love of knowledge and a rational approach to developing scientific understanding. I absorbed the ethos of the grammar school in terms of academic excellence, which gave me the foundation for later in life to ask questions, pursue knowledge and apply that knowledge into scientific areas.

Do you have any favourite memories of your time at TWGSB? 

It’s a long time ago now, but I have a whole mixture of memories particularly around my peer group which was collaborative and had a very good social connection, fostered by sport.  We were a competitive group; Martin Corry was in my year group and he went on to play rugby for England, there was also a guy who went on to play basketball in America.

What advice would you give to any of our students who aspire to achieve in competitive level sport?

Stick at it.  Develop a deep understanding of yourself and how you react to situations.  I remember looking at peers in my swimming group and deciding who I wanted to react like, say to failure or success in a competition. You can choose, you don’t have to be a victim.  It is especially important when you are a teenager that you know you can choose whoever you want to be.  That’s come from my love of psychology and I don’t know where it originates, maybe something a teacher mentioned in a class.

The other thing is to develop resilience, through trial and error and practice, and be relentless in pursuing your vision.

I see you are a motivational speaker and conference leader, what can the business world learn from your work on releasing potential and inspiring motivation?

If you are goal oriented and only chasing the outcome of the goal, which may be out of your influence, you are vulnerable to self-criticism and failure.  It is more important to pursue following the steps of the journey, more than the final outcome. When competing, my identity wasn’t just wrapped up in winning the race; however good I was, someone else could potentially do that, so instead I focused on the steps to get there (training, diet, mindset etc.).

Personal inspiration is either internally or externally driven and, as the external is a bit more difficult to influence, it is important to accept responsibility for the things in your control/environment which will make you the best that you can be.

At TWGSB we encourage students to strive for ‘All Round Excellence’, with that in mind what advice would you give to your 18 year old self?

Be ambitious, but humble. 

Go for the wider approach, try to be excellent at more than one thing and don’t limit yourself.

We thank Ian, for taking the time to share some of his experiences since leaving St Johns Road, which sound like he has brought to life our school values of Respect, Excellence and Determination!

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