Living with a top champ in family

Dinnington Olympic cyclist Ben Swift's Dad Mark Swift (w120128-7a)
Dinnington Olympic cyclist Ben Swift's Dad Mark Swift (w120128-7a)

when top athletes are in training for major sporting events such as the Olympics the pressure is on as they push themselves to the limit.

But what is is like for the families supporting them at home and then watching them compete in front of a huge audience? Guardian Feature Writer HELEN JOHNSTON went to meet the parents of champion cyclist Ben Swift to find out.

Ben Swift in the Tour of Britain - Stage 8a time trial

Ben Swift in the Tour of Britain - Stage 8a time trial

Sandy Swift remembers vividly the night when she and husband Mark were watching Ben competing in the Australian Tour Down Under.

“It was on television at four in the morning so I thought I would go to bed first and set the alarm in time to wake up.”

“But I couldn’t sleep so we ended up just staying up and then I couldn’t watch at first.”

“Then when we realised he was in the final few I was bouncing up and down on the bed and shouting ‘go on Ben!’ “

“It’s horrible watching him, I stop breathing,” she laughed.

Mark said there were times when he has been standing at the side of the road watching Ben in a race and the only thing he can hear is his own heart thumping in his chest. They were in Paris to see Ben finish the home run of the Tour de France last year, but these days they mainly watch him on TV.

“Watching in person can be difficult because you have to decide on the best place to stand and then all you see is a blur going past,” said Mark.

“Watching on television gives us the best view but it’s unreal hearing your own son’s name being spoken by the commentators.”

The worst times have been when they have seen Ben suffer injuries, such as a broken collar bone.

Sandy said: “When he was doing the Tour of Britain we were watching them come down The Mall in London for the sprint finish and Ben went straight over his handle bars.”

“He was all bruised and looked really grey, it was awful.”

Talking to Sandy and Mark at their detached home in Throapham it’s clear that they devoted themselves to nurturing Ben’s talent, and yet they are far from being pushy parents.

Mark, 43, was a racing cyclist himself with the Dinnington club, but didn’t force Ben into following his tracks.

Sandy said: “Ben did all sorts of different sports like swimming and karate. He even did tap dancing because I used to teach dance.”

“He always had good balance and seemed at home on a bike.”

Ben did BMXing and cyclo cross and Mark used to take him to Manchester Velodrome three times a week.

It was when Ben decided he wanted to do a sponsored bike ride for his school, St Joseph’s in Dinnington, that he got his first proper road bike.

As Ben began to win junior challenges and his racing talent became apparent, Mark and Sandy suddenly found themselves spending their weekends transporting their son to events around the country, and even abroad.

As well as their regular trips to Manchester they also spent a lot of time in Cardiff and across in Holland and Belgium where there were hundreds of young cyclists keen to compete.

“Ben was always small for his age so we had to get bike frames made specially for him,” said Mark, who works in advertising billboard maintenance.

Frame builder Kevin Winter, of County Durham, stepped in to help out after Ben had a bike stolen from home, even lacquering Ben’s name on every frame.

“Whenever Ben grew out of a bike we would sell it and give the money to Kevin,” said Mark.

He remembers when Ben first started to beat him in races.

“Ben had a restricted gear bike with carbon three spoke wheels that used to make a noise. I would be racing with my head down, struggling to breathe, and then I’d hear the sound of these wheels coming up behind and it was Ben overtaking me.”

“We used to ride together from here to Whitby and I’d be giving Ben a push. Now when we go out riding it’s me asking him for a push.”

Mark will now use a motor scooter to go on rides with Ben and even riding at 30mph, Ben will be neck and neck with him.

Sandy, who also has a 36-year-old daughter Sarah, said they aren’t allowing themselves to look ahead to the London Olympics.

“It’s all out of our hands, anything could happen, so we’re not thinking about it yet.”

Ben, 24, said he was lucky having a young dad who could do so much with him. “It helps if your dad is really into something and can take you out on the roads, it motivated me. I wouldn’t be where I am without my the support of my parents.”