Sophomore Gemma Atherley broke five national swimming records for Jersey at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last week.
At the games – which took place at venues across Australia – Atherley represented her home country, Jersey. Over six days of competition, the sophomore recorded personal best times in all seven events she competed in, including the 200-meter freestyle (2:03.64) and the 100-meter freestyle (58.42).
Atherley set Jersey national records in the 50-meter backstroke (30.91) and the 400-meter freestyle (4:22.55), and tied the national record in the 50-meter butterfly (28.94). She also topped her own bests in the 100-meter backstroke (1:04.75) and the 200-meter backstroke (2:16.89).
“I think having a consistent level of high performance and having a personal best over many events shows the work she’s put in,” head swimming and diving coach James Winchester said. “It wasn’t as if it was just one good swim.”
Winchester said succeeding in international competition was one of the goals he and Atherley – who has been competing for Jersey since she was 14 – discussed as he was recruiting her. He was “ecstatic” when he heard she qualified, he said.
Atherley said she was fairly confident that she would be asked to compete at the national competition before she received the letter in December notifying her that she was selected as a part of her home country’s team.
At the competition, Atherley was one of two swimmers to compete from Jersey, the largest island in the Channel Islands just off the coast of France.
“I’ve done the work, it’s a small place and there’s not that many people,” Atherley said.
More than 6,000 athletes from 71 countries representing the Commonwealth of Nations – a group of 53 countries that were former British territories – competed over 11 days at the Games. A total of 33 athletes represented Jersey across various sports.
The races took place in an arena filled with 10,000 fans, a crowd Atherley had never experienced before in her career. She said the packed stands were nerve-wracking, especially when sharing the pool with Australians.
“Australians love swimming, it’s like their national sport,” she said. “So there were 10,000 Australians shouting.”
Atherley came into the competition after wrapping up a successful sophomore campaign at GW. She earned four medals at the Atlantic 10 Championships in February, including a gold medal in the 800-yard freestyle relay and a program-record time in the 200-yard backstroke. Her performance earned her a spot on the A-10 All-Conference First Team.
Atherley said her previous experience racing in long course pools helped ease her transition from the 25-yard pool in the Smith Center. She added that the biggest assistance in her training came from the support of GW large team of men’s and women’s swimmers.
“I came from a small senior squad to having 50 people to train with, which really helped,” she said.
Winchester said he made small tweaks in Atherley’s training program in the weeks leading up to the meet, but her success was more of a product of the years of work she had already put in.
“It’s like putting a cake in the oven, you can’t exactly change it in the last 30 minutes,” he said. “Most of the work has been done at that stage.”
Along with Atherley, senior Gustav Hokfelt also had recent success in international competition. He qualified to represent his home country of Sweden in the European Championships this summer. During the qualifying meet, he broke the Swedish national record for the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 54.76 seconds.
“I think this is now starting to show a trend for our program,” Winchester said. “We can get it done at the A-10 level, and we’re also providing an environment where you can be successful at the international level.”