Swimming: Bad-boy tag still something former Hawke's Bay Olympian is trying to shrug off

By Anendra Singh

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Former Olympian Daniel Bell has picked himself up from life's potholes and is relishing a new lease in the swimming pool as Trojans Swim Club coach. PHOTO/Paul Taylor
Former Olympian Daniel Bell has picked himself up from life's potholes and is relishing a new lease in the swimming pool as Trojans Swim Club coach. PHOTO/Paul Taylor

Take to it with salt, vinegar or lime juice, as you would a stubborn stain, but nothing ever washes off the "bad-boy or girl" smudge from the flimsy fabric of sport.

For that matter, the intangible garment tag, which often comes with the promise of easy wash-care instructions, is just that - a label. There's no guarantee protagonists will escape the psychological smears in the high-octane cauldrons of physical exertion.

Former Olympic swimmer Daniel Bell is man enough to accept he courted controversy but, as a swimmer would adroitly tap the touch panel to flip and roll in backstroke, he believes he has grown up significantly since then to learn from the pitfalls of life.

"It was a very hard situation to be in. As I was a teenager my family took it very hard obviously because it shines a negative light on me but it definitely affected the family as well," says Bell who picked up the bad-boy blotch from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I was very young. I guess immature would be a very good way to describe it," says the newly anointed Trojans Swim Club coach in Clive.

Photojournalists snapped him passed out in a toilet cubicle only hours after the Kiwi medley relay team finished fifth in the Beijing final.

In 2009, Bell was reportedly admitted to hospital suffering from excessive alcohol intake after the world championship in Rome.

The following year he was sent home from the Delhi Commonwealth Games for breaching the zero-tolerance alcohol protocol after celebrating his silver medal in the 100m backstroke.

Bell comes across as someone who has rewound and replayed the repercussions of his actions. His eloquent responses, amid pregnant pauses to choose his words carefully, endorse that.

"No one's perfect and everyone makes mistakes," he says.

It helped that his family had impressed on him the value of falling back on a filial foundation when things came to a head.

"You know, the people who are closest to you and the people who love you know who you truly are so I think that was what helped me get through it.

"Obviously being young and having people paint this image of me that I didn't believe was true was difficult to deal with so family support is what helped me get through it.

"What happened, happened and the details I like to keep in the past," says the 26-year-old from Hastings.

Were the reports accurate, Bell?

"I wouldn't even be able to tell you what was said. Like I said, I've left that in the past so I don't remember what was specifically put in the articles."

While the finer details prove elusive he recalls they were pertaining to drinking incidents.

"I don't point the finger at anyone for what happened. Like I said, I take responsibility for my own actions."

He suspects once a picture is painted of one's character it's difficult to erase it from the mental landscape of the public.

"The unfortunate factor is no matter what article was done on me - whether it be a great performance or qualifying for a team - that incident seemed to be always brought up so it definitely affected my career long term.

"I felt like I couldn't get away from it, no matter how well I did or what I did with myself or how much I gave back to the sport."

While he grappled with his demoralising demons, Bell believes he's a bigger and better person for it now.

"You know, I was labelled an alcoholic and I absolutely wasn't. That one incident seemed to rear its head every time."

At times he used his perceived sense of a polluted pool to fuel him through training although he had a tendency to sidestep, in the age of social media, opportunities to pursue sponsorship purely because of the stigma.

Every athlete, he says, likes to think they are in control but never are.

"I don't think it's ever disappeared. Look, the fact that you've brought it up today shows it's still hanging around and that's not what I would like to be labelled as," says Bell.

No doubt he is in a pivotal position to share his life's experiences in helping his young charges avoid the menacing potholes they are likely to encounter in their journey of accomplishment.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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