Rockhampton's Val Kalmikovs is preparing to swim the English Channel.
Rockhampton's Val Kalmikovs is preparing to swim the English Channel. Jann Houley

Rocky Olympian sets sight on swimming the English Channel

WATCH out whales, you're soon going to be sharing the ocean with Rockhampton's Val Kalmikovs, who is preparing to swim a lap around Great Keppel Island.

It's all part of a much bigger picture though as the 46-year-old, who has competed at two Olympics, is gearing up to conquer the English Channel - a 33km stretch between England and France.

Val wasn't originally planning to do the channel swim this year, but when a slot recently opened up he grabbed it with both hands.

"You can't just go and swim it, there's a process you have to go through to get a slot," he said.

"Some people book slots three or four years in advance.

"I had my slot booked for next year, but I cancelled it when one came up for the second week of September this year."

And that means cramming in some serious training before then.

When I caught up with Val yesterday he was mowing the grounds at the Northside Pool, a facility he and his wife Joy Symons manage through their business, Aqualification & Fitness.

Once his work is done there, the advantage of the facility being closed during the winter "off season" is that Val can squeeze in some extra training sessions with the whole pool to himself.

"I've been swimming three mornings a week here and three mornings a week at the Southside Pool," he said.

"Once a week I'll also do a long swim and sometimes I'll take a day off for a beer.

"Some people say that I'm not doing enough, and some say that I'm doing too much, but I think I'm doing just fine."

All jokes aside there is a regimented qualification process that Val has already passed which requires English Channel hopefuls to swim continuously for six hours in water less than 16 degrees.

Also bear in mind that a fair bit of water has flown under the bridge since Val represented his home country Latvia at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and the 2000 Games in Sydney.

"I actually qualified for four Olympics but I only went to two of them," Val said.

"In 1992 I lost my passport so I couldn't go to the Barcelona Games, and in 2004 I missed Athens because I broke my wrist while mountain biking.

"My last big swim meet was in 2006 at the Masters World Swimming Championships in Stanford where I won the 200m breast stroke, and after that I sort of said that will do."

It was conversations with good mate, retired Australian long distance swimmer Trent Grimsey, that convinced Val to have a crack at the English Channel, which in 2012 Grimsey set a new record time for crossing.

"He kept telling me that I should do it and I said (expletive) off," a larrikin Val said.

"I said no way, that's too much, that's crazy, I don't like open water swimming."

Grimsey kept pestering Val who eventually succumbed.

Unsure if I was breaking news to Val, I told him that open water swimming around Great Keppel Island could involve sharks.

"I'll just have to pay attention," he replied with a grin.

Val said it was thanks to his backers, GKI Hideaway and Moore Eyes, that he was able to dare to dream about conquering the English Channel.

His GKI swim is pencilled in for July 27 and 28, weather permitting.



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