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The life of a professional swimmer: a Q&A with Finlay Knox

By Ben Low-On on November 22, 2023

Finlay Knox is a 22-year-old Canadian Swimmer from Okotoks Alberta. He has swam for Canada since 2018 and has represented the Maple Leaf at competitions around the world. Finlay competed in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo finishing 17th in the Men’s 200 IM (Individual Medley).  

I had a chance to sit down with Finley to talk about his early years, his Olympic experience, and his hobbies outside of the pool.

Q: You lived in England, New Zealand and Canada. What was your childhood like and when did you fall in love with the sport of swimming?

A: I grew up in the UK and was only there until I was about two years old, so I don’t remember too much. My mom’s English and my dad’s Scottish, so I got that part of me. When we moved out to New Zealand, that is when I started at least developing memories.

The biggest thing for me that got me into swimming was my mom and my aunt. Living in New Zealand, we lived right on the coast and we surfed a lot. The biggest thing was water safety and making sure that we were able to swim and support ourselves in the water when alone. When you surf and get knocked off the surfboard, you have to not drown. So that’s where it started and then it progressed when I moved to Canada, that is when I became a competitive swimmer.

Q: What do you think was your breakthrough performance in your swimming career?

A: I actually got put on the 2018 Youth Olympic Games team. Two swimmers had dropped out of the team and they were only taking four females and four males. I got a call-up, and I took that advantage to go to that meet and ended up meddling for my first time as a team Canada junior swimmer. I placed third in the 200 IM at the Youth Olympic Games and that was another big breakthrough for me. Not only getting my name on an international team as a junior but confidence-wise, knowing that going to a swim meet, we can step up and race.

Q: You jumped up big at the 2021 Olympic trials to qualify for Tokyo in the 200 IM. What was your initial reaction when touching the wall and realizing you were going to Tokyo?

A: It’s weird because it seems like it should be this huge exciting moment, but because it was the COVID year, it was just to get to the Olympic trials, make the team and go. They were originally meant to take place in April, but there were outbreaks and they postponed it. So at that point, it was like we were getting teased a little bit with the Olympic trials.

I was out in Ontario and I was super grateful to be part of this group where I was training alongside Kylie Masse, Maggie Mac Neil, Yuri Kisil, Josh Liendo and all these big names. When you are part of groups like that, making the Olympics ends up being normal. If you are in an environment where you are surrounded by Olympians and Olympic medalists, making the team becomes a normalized thing.

Looking back, I am very proud of myself, and it took a bit to realize that. It was an incredible moment for sure.

Q: What was your first Olympic experience like and what lessons did you take away from those games?

A: The Olympics were a little different from the Youth Olympics in 2018. I compare it to that where even though it was a Youth Olympics; it felt more like an Olympics experience than the actual games.

We were missing the spectators, and there were COVID protocols. At the dining hall when you’re sitting down to eat, usually there is this huge table and everyone comes in and chats. But we were in these little booths, we had plexiglass on either side of us so you could barely talk to anyone. It was a weird experience, and it felt so isolating in a way.

But that being said, it was the Olympic games, you are there with the highest level of athletes and it was incredible to be in a village with other athletes. I saw the Brownlee brothers, the triathletes, I saw Nyjah Huston. You see these incredible athletes and that is what brought the wow of like, okay; we made it.

Q: What were your hopes going into this year’s Pan-American games?

A: In the swimming world, October is a very weird time for swim meets. We have our big meets in July and August, and that is what we have put in all the work for. From September onwards, we were able to cut down, rest up and perform well. Having the opportunity to have the games early in the season, there are pros and cons to it.

Going into Pan-Ams, we want to get as comfortable as we can in those ready rooms, in the environment, and just make it as normal as possible. In terms of result, whatever times we hit it does not matter. At least you try to go in there with that mindset.

You can not control what other people are going to do. So are we executing the races well, how is our technique holding out, and what times are we going? Then we can go on from there.

Q: Can you take us along with what is going through your head during each 50 of that 200 IM and what was your race plan going into it?

A: The 200 IM is four strokes, so it is easier to break up the fifties. Going in, I believe I was lane six, and I knew the fastest guy and I guess the biggest threat of the race was on my right-hand side. I knew he was quite good at Butterfly, that first 50 he was going to be out there pretty fast. But I just had to stick with my game plan as I am usually out pretty fast as well.

Carrying the momentum from the fly into the backstroke, making sure I’m holding water and “tempoing” the backstroke. Going into the breaststroke, it is making sure that I am keeping the length on the stroke, but also having tempo and grabbing water. Coming off that last wall, it is pretty much just giving it everything you have.

Q: You finished the Pan-American Games with one gold and four bronze medals. What did you think of your performance and what did you think of Team Canada’s performance in the pool?

A: I think the momentum that gets started on day one is huge. We have the likes of Maggie McNeil and Mary Sophie Harvey, who are putting up medal-winning and record-breaking performances. Being a part of the men’s 4×100 Freestyle on day one and being on the podium on that as well. I think day one set the standard for Team Canada and not only did it help me, but I think it helped a lot of people. Seeing what we can accomplish and going from day one to bring it on to day two and day three.

It was a little unfortunate that 200 IM was on the last day. You have to be a little patient and not get too carried away. By making sure that we are swimming fast, recovering and preparing well for the next day, Just riding the momentum from Team Canada and I guess trusting my skills and abilities to perform well.

Q: What does preparation look like as you prepare to compete for a spot in the Paris Olympics?

A: It is October, so right now it is really about fine-tuning the strokes and getting the technique down. So for the next three months, where we have the heavy training, we are swimming properly and efficiently as we prepare for the world champs in February. That will be a tester to see where we are at, what we need to change, and what we need to improve. Then it is about putting in the work, grinding away and going into the Olympic trials at the end of May.

Q: Most sports fans know Finley Knox as a swimmer. What would you want people to know about you outside of the pool?

A: Swimming does take up a big majority of my life. Training about 27 hours a week, I am constantly in and out of the pool. Growing up, I couldn’t stay still and I always had to be active. I am not one to sit down and play video games.

I was always mountain biking, skateboarding, or surfing. When I moved to Canada, it was skateboarding and snowboarding and as I have gotten older, it is more skateboarding in the summer, rock climbing and golfing in the summer, Then in the winter, it is snowboarding and playing some pond hockey with my cousins.

Physical breaks and mental breaks away from swimming are super important, but I can not just sit on the couch and do nothing. So I got to be able to have some activities going for me to stay sane.

More information about Finlay can be found on his website.



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