Olympian swimmer Mark Foster on pressure, performance and the importance of acceptance.

Posted on 30 October 2019

Olympian swimmer Mark Foster on pressure, performance and the importance of acceptance.

Over the summer, our Academy welcomed Mark Foster, the five-time Olympian, World, European and Commonwealth Champion swimmer. Interviewed by the Finance and Banking disputes team's Polly Blenkin, Mark discussed his life, his international swimming career, his stint on Strictly Come Dancing, and his achievements since retiring. The Mishcon Academy regularly hosts speakers whose work is important to the world around us and who can inspire the firm.

Mark represented his country for 23 years and is one of Britain’s most decorated male swimmers, winning a record 47 major international medals and breaking the World Record eight times. Shocking to even the most hard-working members of our audience was how much time Mark had to spend in the pool to achieve successes. From the age of 10, he was training for more than four hours a day on top of his schooling.

Mark achieved a measure of success whilst keeping a large part of his life a secret; he did not come out as gay until 2017. He discussed how hard it was to hide his homosexuality and his relationship with his partner from his family, his coaches and his friends. He recalled how, when he was younger, he had internalised the view that homosexuality was "not right". What started as a little secret became a very big issue and, for a long time, his partner of 19 years, was not known to his mother, his coach or any of his swimming friends.

After he came out to his coach, he started breaking more world records. The same thing happened a few years later after he told two of his close friends. Once he could share things about his home life with people in swimming, people with whom he could "be authentic and be a bit more present", he felt something which had been holding him back in the pool was lifted. He noted that "when you've got something else going on in the background, you can't give it your all".

The case for a more diverse and accepting workplace culture seems clear: people who can be their authentic selves and fully present at work, perform better.

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