Hannah & Patrick Miley: Team Miley go for glory

Having her dad as coach hasn't been easy for the swimmer, but their emotional journey could end in gold tomorrow. They talk to Robin Scott-Elliot

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The Independent Online

When, at around 8.15pm tomorrow, Hannah Miley touches the end of the pool in the London Aquatics Centre to stop the clock in the final of the 400 metres individual medley – the most gruelling event on the Olympic pool programme – she will first turn around and frantically search the scoreboard to discover whether she has claimed Britain's first medal in the pool. Then she will look again, this time for her coach and her father.

It will require only one glance for they are one and the same. Patrick Miley, an ex-soldier, juggles the demands of fatherhood – there are also two younger sons, both swimmers – with planning his daughter's path to the Olympics and piloting a helicopter to and from North Sea oil rigs.

"It is not your everyday job," says Patrick, "but statistically you are more at risk when you drive home at night. Although, obviously, if an accident does happen I am more likely to die." He smiles tightly at his small audience of journalists. He is standing on the side of the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh, dressed in his Team GB gear – he is one of the coaches who will accompany them in London. Behind him, Britain's swimmers plough up and down the 50m length of the pool; Rebecca Adlington, James Goddard, Gemma Spofforth, Liam Tancock and, the slightest of the lot, his daughter.

In individual sports the relationship between coach and athlete can be intriguingly complex and committed. When it involves a familial element, that intensifies the relationship yet further; in some cases it has reached the point of suffocation.

"You sound like you are afraid of it," says Miley. "I'm not afraid of it. I won't pretend it has not been an emotional rollercoaster but I watch other coaches who are not related to their athletes and it is not that different. But if you speak to Bill Furniss [Adlington's coach] about my reaction to Hannah winning silver at the World Championships [last year], that was hugely emotional because I didn't anticipate it as the race started. It was quite an emotional end. Right now I feel much more sturdy with things, but some day this journey ends and it is not about me, it is about Hannah."

Miley has coached his daughter from the start, and from the start it has been in the four-lane 25m pool in their hometown of Inverurie in the north-east of Scotland. There they have remained, pondering and then deciding against a move to the US, as Miley has established herself as a leading contender for Olympic gold.

"I've never known it any other way," says Miley later, having completed her swim. Her hands grip the handles of her red Team GB backpack as she chats happily. "I fully trust and respect him because he knows what he's talking about – he has been involved in swimming since before I was born. His love for swimming has been there a long time and he has developed that in me and my brothers. He worked with [US swimmer] Brooke Bennett – gold medal – [Britain's] Paul Palmer – silver medal – he worked with Ian Thorpe before he broke his first world record. It's safe to say he knows what he's talking about – I can't really challenge it!

"We work as a family – this is the Irish side of the family. We work very well, very closely as a unit. It's not just my dad, my mum's involved – she's the one who keeps us together, keeps us sane. My two younger brothers give huge support as well – I know everyone has had to sacrifice a lot to support me and my dad, so the fact I can go in as Team Miley gives huge pride."

It is, though, a swim team that is not always easy to step away from. "My dad will have a conversation at the dinner table about, say, the US trials ... and that's what my mum is good at – 'I've had enough of swimming for one day – let's talk about something else'. Sometimes it's too constant. [But] I am where I am today because of that."

Fortunately for the partnership, daughter is like father in being part swimming obsessive. Whereas Adlington pays not the slightest bit of attention to what her rivals are up to, Miley and her father keep a wary eye on all opponents, breaking down their swims, identifying weaknesses and planning how she will race, first in tomorrow's heats and then, barring utter disaster, the evening finals.

"She thrives on the information," says Patrick. "It is the luxury of Twitter – information flows so fast these days. She tells me things I have no idea about. The closer we have got to the Games I have noticed that she wants me to be more involved in her thinking. She works out the strengths and weaknesses of those she is going to compete against. People have a different way of doing it and I totally respect not wanting to know about opponents. In amongst a tight race like the 400m medley, maybe it is beneficial to know more about it."

Their – for it is unquestionably a they – main rival for gold is Elizabeth Beisel, the American who finished half a second ahead of Miley at last year's World Championships in Shanghai. At last month's US trials in Omaha, Beisel recorded the fastest time in the world this year – nearly a second faster than Miley's best in the British trials.

"I hesitate to tell you how sad I can be," says Patrick. "I can tell you everything about [Beisel]. How many strokes she takes. What pace she does to 15m, 25m, 45m. How quickly she goes in and out of her turns. How she runs the race. Every split since 2008. Hannah does not know but I know. It might not directly benefit her but it affects the way I coach Hannah.

"Ultimately, it is a race. The Olympics is a race. Beisel has exposed exactly what she has got five weeks out from the Games. That has to be beneficial. My tactics with Hannah will be based on what I glean from that."

Both Mileys have noticed a change in tactics from Beisel. The 22-year-old Scot led Beisel at the 300m mark in Shanghai – at the US trials Beisel hit 300m at a quicker pace. "So I know that she and her coach, who is extremely good, are looking at what Hannah's tactics are," says Patrick. "It is good because we have got their attention."

Patrick is quietly spoken and thoughtful, considering each question, analysing it. He is, to be plain, a swimming nut – he invented the "Aquapacer", in effect a metronome to help swimmers train at the correct pace – but as his emotional reaction to his daughter's silver in Shanghai illustrated, there is much more to it than the nuts and bolts of trying to make his daughter into an Olympic champion. "For me the journey is extraordinary," he says. "There is a certain sadness in the journey finishing."

He will be there at the very end of the journey, but when Miley switches her gaze from the scoreboard tomorrow evening she will not find her coach. "Before I start my race he's my coach," she says, "when I finish he's my dad."

Parental guidance: Other father and child partnerships

Greg and Alexander Massialas (USA), fencing

American fencer Alexander Massialas, 18, will make his Olympic debut at London 2012 under the watchful eye of his father, Greg, a former Olympian and now the coach of the USA men's foil fencing team.

Donald and Jennifer McIntosh (GBR), shooting The Scot Jennifer McIntosh will compete for the home nation in the 10m rifle event at the Royal Barracks in Woolwich, as father Donald, the head rifle coach for British Shooting, looks on.

Les and Mike Dawson (NZ), kayaking

New Zealander Mike Dawson's Olympics will very much be a family affair. Under the tutelage of father and Olympic coach Les, he will compete in the K1 canoe slalom where he will be hoping to impress, among others, his mother, who – unbelievably – is one of the judges at the event.

Kathryn McGlynn