Jack Burnell: Olympic goals, breakthrough expertise and the enjoyable of the ball

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When Jack Burnell announced his retirement from open water swimming, his goal being to outperform in business what he had achieved in sport.

Burnell retired in April after having represented the UK on the international scene for eight years.

During this time he won medals in the European and World Cup and in 2017 and 2015 he took fourth and fifth place out of four World Cups.

Desperation reigned at the 2016 Rio Olympics when Burnell was disqualified in the final meters after receiving a second yellow card after a scramble Oussama Mellouli, something he called “my career highlight and my career lowlight at the same time”.

Success in Tokyo 2020 was his final goal, but the years of delay culminated in his realizing he was not going to achieve his dream of the gold medal and he broke it up.

Burnell, who has always done business in addition to his swimming, has now dipped into the tech industry and is launching a platform that enables small businesses and service providers to create their own app in a cost-effective way.

In an in-depth interview with Swimming World, Burnell spoke about the transition from sport to life away from the pool, his business ambitions, Rio and Tokyo and his passion for football with Chelsea and Brentford.

He also shares his thoughts on FINA, safety and how they can make Open Water a spectacle.

From Rio desolation to a ball

A lasting memory of Rio 2016 was Burnell's anger and injury after he was disqualified in the final meters of the marathon swim on Copacabana Beach.

The Brit had fought for a medal, but two yellow cards destroyed his Olympic dream.

He said:

“You never really get over something like that. I will always look back on Rio and think of what a great experience it was to represent your country in the Olympics, but there is also this bitter aspect of what could have been.

“I've come to terms with the fact that you can't change the past, you can only influence the future and here I am with my business career and the fact that I've achieved a lot in my athletic career, but I really believe that it is is just the beginning of what I can achieve in my professional career.

“The Olympic medal was what I wanted to achieve: it was taken away from me there, but that was out of my control at the end of the day and I'm confident that I've done everything in my career and in the time I could did what i could was in the sports world to achieve what i did.

"So that I can safely walk away from the sport with my head held high."

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Jack Burnell Chelsea (1)

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Photo courtesy:

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Photo courtesy: Jack Burnell Twitter

In 2020, Burnell – who was coached by Dave Hemmings in Loughborough – had Tokyo in view in the last race of his career.

In March 2020 the International Olympic Committee announced that the games would be postponed to July 2021 and that was ultimately the beginning of the end for Burnell and his swimming journey.

If he didn't have a chance to get to the top of the podium, he didn't want to be there.

He said:

“I was massively prepared to compete in 2020.

“The difference to me was that I was at the end of my career at that point, so that was the big swan song for me, the big hurray, I think.

“And the push-back this year upset it for me personally: The fun of swimming diminished, I got injuries I'd never had before, and everything seemed to be going in one direction, including my world rankings.

“I had always tried to insist on being the best in the world in swimming – as with anything I planned to do – and it became pretty clear that if I was going to the Olympics in 2021, I wasn't going to Be the best in the world and I am very realistic.

“So that my body would continue to go through what it went through, my mind went through what it went through, my family went through what I went through – the disadvantages outweighed the advantages.

“I just said to myself, I think it is time to put an end to it: I can do that and I don't want to be 20th on the side of the road in Tokyo and look back and think about – what? Was it realistic to do this extra year? "

Burnell had always pursued his business career alongside his athletic career and became a performance mindset coach at three years ago Brentford, now in the Premier League, but then competing for the championship.

It came about while having a team interview with the Brentford first team ahead of the 2018/19 season, which resulted in several players asking for one-on-one interviews from which the relationship flourished.

Burnell said:

“For me personally, this club is incredible: the ethos that has been built there.

“I just feel honored that I can build on this and work with very influential key players and develop these – the resilience I had in Olympic sport – and implement them in the world of football.

"It's something that I'm very privileged to have and I just love it."

Football is his passion, the man who spent a long time at the forefront of elite sport when he remembered meeting his Chelsea heroes.

He beamed:

“Post-Rio Chelsea made a huge contribution about me in club magazine and Chelsea TV.

“I went to the locker room after one of the games and I always think back to it and say that it was more like the highlight of my sporting career than the Olympic Games!

“I went into the locker room and John Terry was the first player to come up to me and say, "Hi Jack, I saw your race".

"Cezar Azpilicueta came up to me, started chatting with me, that's when Thibaut Courtois was on the team and he started chatting – it was a very surreal moment in my life as I had supported and loved this club as a five year old.

“Then to stand in the locker room and chat these guys with me, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I've never been speechless or speechless, but in this case I was definitely! "

Was there a conflict when Brentford played Chelsea recently when the Blues got away with a narrow win?

“I wanted both teams to win. It was the strangest feeling ever. "

A smooth transition and a revolutionary technology platform

Many athletes, after retirement, struggle while trying to start a new life.

During training and competition, every moment in an athlete's life is planned and organized, and the sudden loss of this structure is destabilized.

Likewise, the lack of goals and goals that were omnipresent.

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Jack Burnell

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Jack Burnell: Courtesy Photo: British Swimming

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Jack Burnell: Courtesy Photo: British Swimming

Burnell didn't feel the transition that much, however, since he had a business degree while swimming before starting his own ventures.

Sport wasn't the be-all and end-all for him.

In his own words, Burnell was known throughout his swimming career as "the guy who was always doing business, the guy who was always twirling and doing business".

He advised people to "sell what you know," which led to a conversation with his business mentor to make it easier for people to do just that.

Given the success of the online store builder Shopify, where owners can sell their products, Burnell set out to create a platform for service providers, in his role as community leader and partnering with UltraWell, to create their own app.

The platform enables companies to have everything in one place – essentially a storefront.

Around £ 1.5 million ($ 2,070,000) of technology has already flowed into Ultrawell, with Burnell and his team planning to get their first funding boost by late 2021 ahead of its estimated launch date in mid-2022.

That means small businesses and sole proprietorships who previously couldn't afford to pay someone to build an app can now do it for just £ 30 ($ 41) a month.

Burnell said:

“It enables small independents to compete with the big boys.

“In the old days, when websites were only made by agencies, they cost hundreds, even thousands, you didn't really know what you were getting.

“But now you can just go to Wix or Squarespace and build an amazing website because all the hard work is done for you.

“We do this for service providers to deliver their services through an app, and all of that data is in one place.

“Right now these people are using Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Sheets, email, spreadsheets – all of these different things are not in one place because it will cost half a million pounds to make an app that can do all of that.

“We took all this headache, all this tech away and put it into a simple monthly subscription.

"And it enables independent service providers to compete with people who have 400 consultants who can create an app like this because they have the budget to do it."

He added:

“Tech is only great when it blends seamlessly with life: the technology can be incredible, but when it doesn't blend in with everyday life, it's not functional, usable, and people won't use it.

“The core of our business is that we make it easy and enable people with no technical knowledge to perform their services.

"These are people with great knowledge and we enable them to provide their services online with no technical experience and no real budget to produce these things that normally cost a lot of money."

About safety in open water and attracting an audience

Burnell didn't compete in open water when Fran Crippen died on October 23, 2010 during a FINA-approved 10k open water event in the United Arab Emirates in hot water temperatures.

After his death, FINA introduced rule OWS 5.5, which said that the water temperature must not be below 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 F) or above 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 F).

While Burnell says that more attention has been paid to safety, he still has reservations, saying:

“It's gotten a lot better since I've been competing – the wetsuit rules and all those things.

“That is also a bit suspicious: I think FINA will adapt the rules to suit their situation.

“I've taken part in races where the water was definitely too cold or too warm: the water temperature is measured right next to the boat engine so that it is warmer or in shallower waters when it should be warmer.

“There will always be an element of bending the rules and such.

“There are no hard and fast rules about when and where to take them; it's just – we bend the rules to suit our needs.

"But it's a lot safer, I think, a lot stricter on this side."

While watching the Olympics, Burnell realized that open water needs to be more proactive if it is to be classified as entertainment and to attract an audience.

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Jack Burnell: Courtesy Photo: British Swimming

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Jack Burnell: Courtesy Photo: British Swimming

“The problem that Open Water has is the way it is filmed and televised and presented to the public is so dry that it is almost invisible and you never develop or inspire a sport when it's not entertaining to watch.

“And that ultimately has to be the very core of what FINA has to do.

“Look at the ISL, they're trying to do that. Whether they succeed or not is at someone's discretion.

“But I think what FINA has to do is make this sport a commercially viable proposition for a broadcaster or someone who wants to get fans interested and watch it.

"Otherwise there will be no money for the sport and it will remain a sport that only ticks together with the lottery financing."

Burnell has some ideas of his own.

“Why aren't there three or four drones in the air? It doesn't make sense: drones were literally made to film swimming in open water, they are a perfect tool.

“You have cameras on boats filming splashes of water on the side and you can barely see what is happening.

“All of those graphs that you see in Formula One, you can see where the people are here and you can see who is where and what is going on; This is not possible with open water swimming, even at the highest level.

“We live in a generation where TikTok shows you a video for 10 seconds or 5 seconds and you decide whether you want to continue scrolling or not; A sport where you show where someone is every half hour is just not a reality.

“Why don't all swimmers wear tracking devices that show where everyone is in real time?

“Take a look at the marathon: people watch and know everyone's balancing act. That creates an intrigue. "

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