Gordon was born and grew up in Hong Kong. He started swimming with Harry Wright International at the age of 10, and is still going strong. Growing up his main event was the 200m Backstroke, but he occasionally raced in the 1500m Free. In his younger years, Open Water Swimming was more of a social scene for Gordon, mostly racing in the Clean Half relay and the Revolution Asia races. He took the leap over to distance swimming when he moved to Ellesmere College in September 2015 to train under Alan Bircher (Open Water World & European silver medallist). Nine months after the move he was selected to represent Great Britain at the World Juniors Open Water Championships in the Netherlands.
English Channel Record Holder Trent Grimsy drafting Gordon during the Clean Half 2013
Q: What influenced your decision to move from the pool to OWS?
I’ve always had quite efficient stroke technique, and a reasonably quick 1500m time. When I moved to Ellesmere College to train with Alan Bircher, a World and European 10km silver medalist, the transition was only natural. It was early 2016, with the GB Open Water trials coming up in June and a possible spot on the World Junior squad it was a no brainer. It was at the 2016 World Junior Championships that I fell in love with the sport and have since been selected for the Junior squad for two European Junior Championships, two European (LEN) Cup legs, and two smaller competitions in Maderia, Portugal and Mallorca, Spain.
Q: Is there a difference in terms of team bonding in a distance/OWS team?
I would say that for the majority of my swimming career I have been a distance swimmer. I can say from experience there is nothing harder than witnessing your coach writing up on the white board - 5km max time trial for the distance swimmers, next to a 16 X 50m set for the sprinters. Yet ironically, this only brings the Distance group closer together as we quite literally go through hell together. It is for this reason that I think on all the camps and teams I have been on with British Swimming the atmosphere is very relaxed, because everyone knows that no matter what, we will get the job done.
Q: What do you want people to know about Open Water Swimming?
There is a lot of stigma around Open Water Swimming, often generated by pool swimmers! Unfortunately OWS can be looked down upon and seen as ‘failed’ pool swimmers looking for an easy option. This is due to two main reasons; lack of publicity and a small ‘pool’ of professional athletes. In my opinion, I think it takes a very special type of athlete to train the marathon distance. An athlete who is able to put their mind and body on the line for two hours straight and race through the toughest of conditions. It is a misunderstood sport. However as it grows in popularity people are starting to see it as an event that puts a unique twist on swimming. Whilst in its own right it is just as complex and as hard to train and race for as traditional pool swimming.
Q: What would a typical training week look like for you?
Balancing full time education with 18 hours of training a week is pretty standard for all aspiring athletes around the world. I was averaging 55-65km per week, and as a Distance/Open Water swimmer the majority of the work was pull. Sometimes totaling 8km of max effort pull in one day. The task of fitting in 9 pool sessions, 4 land based conditioning sessions per week, whilst somehow managing to keep your grades high can be very challenging. This extreme form of character building however was what it took for me to qualify for my first World Juniors. Yet for me that was only the first step, and hopefully moving back and swimming with Harry Wright International this November will allow me to progress further.
Gordon racing the LEN Junior 10km in Maderia, Portugal, 2017
Q: What are the main training aspects that you look for as an athlete when deciding where to train?
Every program is different, and for good reason too, as every coach and athlete is different, whether that be personality or training requirements. This is why for me the relationship with your coach is the most important. There needs to be a certain amount of ‘friendship’ as you will be seeing each other an awful lot, but more importantly a sense of mutual respect and the willingness to learn together is key! At the end of the day it is not about the facility it is about how you use it.
Q: How do you think Hong Kong can attract or encourage more Open Water Swimmers?
Hong Kong has some incredible scenery, and in some places amazingly clear water. I do think it is a shame that there aren’t more races that take advantage of what Hong Kong has to offer for the sport. Ultimately, it is down to increasing publicity and adapting races to become more spectator friendly. Races are exciting to watch if people have the access. For example I have seen very little advertising for the upcoming FINA OWS World Cup leg on 15th October, which is unfortunate as many of the worlds top swimmers will be here.
Q: I'm a pool swimmer joining my first Open Water race, what valuable advice can you give me?
It’s very cliché, but with Open Water swimming, especially as you start to do the longer distances, you have to enjoy it! If possible I would suggest making it a challenge amongst family and friends by doing an iconic race like the New World Harbour Race, or if you’re feeling brave the 15km Clean Half team Relay! Then if you enjoyed it, get out there and race! Like any sport it’s about finding the balance between a realistic feat, and also a challenge that will push you out of your comfort zone. The more fun you keep your training, the more enjoyable it will be!
Q: Most important question - have you ever seen a shark?
I wish! It would have made swim faster!
Gordon has been back in Hong Kong for the last few weeks, training with his old swim squad, and joining our adult AM OWS sessions at Repulse Bay. This video shows the great relaxed attitude that he brings to all his sessions - don't be fooled, when it's time to work Gordon can really put the hammer down. He can go 10km in under 2 hours!