Swimmer Emma Harvey selected for Paris Olympics

Swimmer Emma Harvey selected for Paris Olympics

We caught up with her back at Millfield earlier this year to find out her story on the path from Millfield to Paris.

“When you love something so much and you put your heart and soul into it but you're not seeing the results, it really does shake you. There is always something in me, that I feel like I would be doing myself a disservice if I gave up.”

Emma Harvey is in the best shape of her life. It is a few months before the Paris Olympics and she’s going all in. She’s 22 and swimming at the Olympics is her all-time goal.

Despite her infectious enthusiasm and endless gratitude for all the opportunities that have paved her way, the journey has been one of frustration, constant learning and love of the sport. This is the reality of making it as a swimmer.

Aged between 8-12 years old, Harvey saw a lot of success in the pool, “I’d race in Canada and the UK pretty often and I was competitive. I was young and ambitious, I just wanted to do this for as long as I could and I knew I wanted to do the Olympics.”

10 years on and she’s on the brink of it becoming a reality.

Born and raised in Bermuda, Emma’s parents moved from Scotland 30 years ago. She swam for Scotland before her Bermudan citizenship came through at 18.

When Chad Le Clos upset Michael Phelps at the 2012 Olympics, 12-year-old Harvey was in the stands with her mum, watching the action unfold. “Seeing that had a lasting impact on me. I saw him in the athletes’ village at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and got a picture with him.” Inspiration also came from Jazz Carlin and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, British athletes at the top of their game at that time.

Now she looks closer to home for inspiration. “The Caribbean boys like Jordan Crooks and Dylan Carter have done amazing things. They grew up on their tiny islands and had to turn all the resources they had and make it work, so to see them achieving alongside the best in the world is amazing.”

The first Olympic gold medal to grace Bermuda’s shores came in 2021 in Tokyo, courtesy of triathlete Flora Duffy. “The effect that she's had on the country is unreal”, Harvey says. “She’s had streets named after her. She’s probably the most famous person on the island.”

Birmingham was Harvey’s first major games and was a huge turning point. “I absolutely loved it. The village was so much fun. The adrenaline rush allowed me to have some good performances. I just can't speak enough about how great my experience was.”

Then came the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, last year, where Harvey set not one, but three, new national records for Bermuda and became the first Bermudian to make a semi-final.

“I set national records in 100m back, 50m back and 50m fly. I just missed the Olympic qualifying time by eight 100s of a second. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be able to hit that time, the amount I've learned since then has been insane.”

“The biggest thing for me was making the semi-final in the 50m back, no one from Bermuda has ever made a semi before, so to walk out and compete at that level was amazing. I'm super proud of that.”

Earlier this year she broke her own national record in the 100m back at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Emma is not the only one in the Harvey family with the Olympics in their sights this year. Her training partner at Penn State University and younger brother by two years, Jack, also competes in backstroke. 

“He’s 200m and I mostly sprint. I specifically remember the first time he beat me in a race, I think I must have been 15 and he was probably 13 and I’ve obviously lost every race since. It's been really amazing having him as my training partner, he's my biggest supporter.”

The siblings are very close, enabling Jack to deliver on-point advice that others may not be so forthcoming about.

“Siblings can be pretty brutally honest with you and during times when I was not hitting the numbers I wanted, he would say “You're capable of this. You're the one that's getting in your own way.” Having someone be able to sit you down and tell you that is so important and just helps you still believe.”

Harvey has popped back to Millfield to train alongside Olympic hopefuls Matt Richards and James Guy, whilst between competitions, and it feels like home.

“It's really legit swimming next to these guys. They are bullet focused on the Olympics and some of them may medal. It's been amazing just being in this environment.”

Growing up in Bermuda, water safety is huge. Harvey started swimming lessons at a young age, joined a club and her love for the sport was born.

“My mom told me a few months ago that when I was like eight or nine, I told her that I'd probably do it for about 6 more months and then I’d quit. I don't remember having that conversation. I remember always loving it.”

Coming to Millfield was Harvey’s choice but her parents were unsure at first. “I already felt like I had outgrown Bermuda and I had this desire to see how good I could be. I had to beg my parents for months and months to let me come to boarding school so far away. I learned so much when I was here. It was hard at times for sure, but I'm so glad I did.”

“The thing that really stuck out to me most is there are so many people who are trying to achieve excellence in whatever their field was. I had friends who hoped they were going to the Olympics for other sports, for hockey, cycling, and I that really sticks out to me.

“Millfield breeds people that want to achieve at that level and not just in sport, but music, academics, it really has it all. I was definitely the best prepared out of everyone I knew going into a collegiate environment. For Americans going to from High School to college, it's a huge step up, but I felt like that was what I had been doing for the last four years because everything from my schedule, to the academic side was done at such a high level, that it I didn't feel like it was that much of an adjust."

Harvey knew Millfield was the right place for her after meeting Joel Finck, the Director of Swimming at the time, and Euan Dale, who was a performance coach. Harvey credits Dale’s guidance with having the biggest impact on her life whilst at school.

“It’s so easy to get wrapped up in outcomes and performances and what the time says on the board but he instilled in us that our lives were so much more than swimming. That’s why many swimmers were getting three A stars at A level or doing these amazing other things as well because of the holistic approach. When performances weren't happening in the pool, he taught me that it didn't change my value or my worth as a person, which I know is something that is definitely unique. He had unwavering belief in me. To this day even when I get results that I'm really proud about, he is one of the first people I message.”

Harvey experienced a two-year period when every race time was disappointing and she started to wonder how much heartache she could keep putting herself through.

“In swimming there is quite a dropout rate just because you get to an age, and for so many girls especially, you hit a plateau. I was 100% someone who hit that plateau for years and if all you have is the improvement in the times and you don't have the love of the sport and the love of the people you're doing it with it's really, really hard to stay.”

With hindsight, Harvey now believes that part of the reason was that she was not giving her body enough fuel during this time.

“I’ve increased my calorie intake by a pretty significant amount, but it’s had no effect on my weight just because I was under consuming to the point that my body wasn't actually able to function properly. I was so far under that increasing it just got me to maintenance. My metabolic rate was then able to fix itself. I didn’t realise when I was younger how much exercise I was doing and how much food I needed.”

“All of a sudden, after having a couple of really bad years and then a couple years which were kind of hit and miss but on the up, I had a really good year last year. Then in the last 12 months I have seen an improvement that I never expected. I feel ready and confident to perform at any point and I finally feel like I'm where I should be.”

Could it be down to Wim Hof and his breathing techniques? Harvey has recently become an advocate of his work after someone bought her his book.

“It's really, really interesting the science behind it. You do a certain breathing pattern and then it's a breath hold for roughly between like a minute 30, maybe 2 minutes, and then you repeat that two or three times and it just helps you flood oxygen to your body. Especially if I'm doing a race, like 50m free where you have to hold your breath the whole time, it is amazing how different that can feel."

“Specifically, the breathing right before a race I find is really great as it calms me down and helps me to control my heart rate. I can go to a race and feel like I'm in control and I'm not blasting the first 25m and then dying.”

Having studied maths, economics and psychology A levels at Millfield, Harvey is now interested in a career in sustainability.

With so much time spent in the pool, Harvey does one particular thing to pass the time. “I sing 100%. You know, swimming is so technical, time goes by really quickly, when you are constantly thinking about what your arms and legs and core are doing. When there is music playing in the pool, you hear it when your above the water and then continue in your head under the water and see if you're in the right place when you come up again.”

Harvey is vegan, so pre-race she consumes “pasta, bread, carbs, anything”.

“You know with REDS (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) and there's so many other factors for women, even in the weight room, so many studies are done on men but women do need something fundamentally different so it is really interesting to see all that kind of science coming through and I think especially in the last couple years, I’ve definitely noticed a difference where coaches are tailoring for men and women.”

If females of a certain age are thinking of giving up swimming, Harvey’s advice is to not compare themselves to others.

“Think about the reasons why you're thinking about stopping. If it's a feeling of frustration, a feeling that I'm not improving or all these other people are improving and why am I not, remember that you're on your own journey and everyone is different. There's so much you can get out of the sport beyond setting best times every time you complete.”

After Millfield, Emma choose to study in America where sport is big business. She received an 80% scholarship for two years and then a free ride at Penn State. She graduated in December with a double major in economics and traditional politics.

“I needed a new environment, I'd be swimming short course yards, all my times would be reset and I wouldn’t be comparing myself to the same people. Sport in the US is just amazing. It's so comprehensive what they can do for you. The opportunity to compete as a team was the main difference as in the UK it's very individualised.”

“I can’t overstate how huge sport is. The athletic community is a billion-dollar industry. The stadium at Penn State is the second largest stadium in the whole world, 100,000 people. Every time there's a home football game, you probably get half a million people coming in for tailgates in the town."

Harvey’s been to 95% of home games for American football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, ice hockey and track meets.

“It trickles down to everything, the facilities, free dining halls, the academic resources, tutors, specific study spaces for athletes. It's such a cool experience and it makes you feel like it's cool to be an athlete. It's cool to have people care about what you're doing.”


Feature box:

Millfield School friends:

I saw Stuart Rushmere at the Commonwealth Games. He's someone that I get on well with. Millie Tanner, who was in my house with me. Daisy, Tash, Alana and Marnie and Grace Austin as well. They'll be some of my closest friends for the rest of my life and I'm very thankful for that.

Watching on TV:

Re-runs of The Office, while I'm cooking, cleaning, packing…

I really want to watch Traitors. I've heard good things about it.


A series called the Wheel Of Time, like a Game of Thrones type series. I’m a big reader. There are 15 books, I’m on book five. Each book is like 1000 pages long! I read on planes and during competitions to help me sleep.

If you weren’t a swimmer?

It be a diver! Definitely something in sport. I know when I am older, like 35, I will be a triathlete.

Best advice given to you?

The best advice I was ever given was don't look to the past as a kind of prediction of the future because you've never achieved what your all-time goal is, so you don't know what the perfect six steps are. Never count yourself out.

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