“Obviously I thought I knew it all in Sydney. Very wrong. Great experience and it definitely made me want to continue to bring my swimming to another level. I know what the Games involve regarding food, transport, accommodation. All the Commonwealth Games have helped in this too. It’s another competition in my world, no added attachment to the Olympic label. I know how many distractions there are, and I know how to handle all the hype and excitement better. Smarter, faster and wiser 8 years on,” he explained.
It was the following year that the Helen’s Bay man made the move to the USA and to the University of Tennessee and being involved in the NCAA collegiate system turned his career around.
Bree says, “It’s taught me the following. Don’t ever give up. Fight the good fight. Become a man. Learn from everything, every scenario, every person, every race, every practice, and every conversation. Learn, and be in alignment with what you want to do, swimming, work whatever. If it doesn’t feel right, you’re off course. If there are obstacles, they will pass. Everything flows continuously, all day, all night, never stops. Find your passion, live it and love it. That’s what I’ve learnt and that’s not necessarily taught. The NCAA gives you the opportunity to race fast, the facilities and coaching are some of the best in the world. The team creates friends and support. The system works but it also crushes some kids. It is what you make it. You can excel in it or struggle in it. I’ve done both and I’m still figuring it out. It’s a stepping stone onto greater things. I have no regrets about making the move, to improve in anything you have to surround yourself with the best.”
As the decade has worn on Bree has shown he can be the man for the big occasion. At the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and again in Melbourne in 2006 he finished fifth in the final of the 200m breaststroke but in between he missed out on selection for the Athens Olympics in 2004 by less than half a second.
Bree made the ‘A’ time for Beijing at the US championships in Indiana last summer posting a new Irish record in the 200m breaststroke of 2:13.14. He was beaten by American Brendan Hansen who won bronze in Athens and is a former world record holder but he won’t be in Beijing after failing to come through the US Trials. Current Olympic champion Kosuke Kitijima of Japan will be the favourite.
So Bree arrives in Beijing, now 27 years old and swimming better than he has ever done. As he points out, “Britain’s Mark Foster is 38 years old and still breaking records and going to his fifth Olympics.”
His passion and desire are there for everyone to see.
“Keep learning on a daily basis. That’s twice every day I pickup something new to add to my swimming knowledge. I read more about it, I study it, I live it. I’ve put down the swimming accelerator to the floor because I know it only lasts a few years. After it, I can say I’ve covered all there was to cover. But right now, I’m only scraping the surface in terms of body awareness, feel for the water etc, my mind is very focused and I love it more than ever. It’s a true passion, something that will be hard to replace when done. How often can you physically and mentally take it to the extreme limits within a sport on almost a daily basis? I feel super human some days and adapt on other days. Everything in life is in cycles and so to experience it and feel that feeling is unbeatable. As I get older, I’m getting stronger, body and mind, always learning, always wanting to learn.”
He completed his preparations in Singapore, training with the Venezuelan team.
“The preparations in Singapore went really well. We were staying in Orchid Road and it was a fantastic place. The facility were training in was world class, it was a 50m pool in a high school and outdoors and the sun was shining so I got a lot of hard work in. I tried out the new Speedo suit and it felt really, really good.
It was in the same time zone as Beijing so I got over all the jetlag in the first few days, the food was great and I slept well so all in all it was perfect, now I’m here and I’m excited to get going.”
Undoubtedly Bree will be looking for a new Irish record in his favourite event, the 200m breaststroke which comes up next Tuesday.
“It would need to be an Irish record or even faster to get to the final and I was touching my current best at the British championships a few weeks ago and I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as good then as I’m feeling now in terms of preparation. I had a few massages and I’m well looked after by the Olympic HQ medical staff over the last week and now it’s getting close and I’m getting very excited.”