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Medi Harris targets Olympic backstroke podium at Paris 2024

With less than eight months before the Paris 2024 Games, Medi Harris is currently the most exciting prospect in British swimming.

The Welsh flyer returns from the recent European Short Course Championships with a gold, silver and bronze medal hung around her neck, underlining her Paris Olympic credentials.

Before heading out to Bucharest for her final competition of 2023, Harris spoke to Sports Gazette about her breakthrough year in the pool, winning bronze for Wales in the Commonwealth Games, and her aspirations ahead of next summer’s Parisian adventure.

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Gold medallist Medi Harris (L) and silver medallist Katie Shanahan (R) at the end of women’s 200m backstroke final in Bucharest.

The 21-year-old’s remarkable rise saw her go from swimming for Swansea University at BUCS – British Universities and Colleges Sport – to British 100m backstroke champion in the space of six weeks in early 2022.

“I feel like it happened really quickly. I was enjoying swimming fast so I didn’t have any time to reflect on how I was progressing, which was probably a blessing in disguise,” said Harris.

She obliterated Georgia Davies’s Welsh 100m backstroke record in the process, shocking onlookers by touching out at 59.30s at the Long Course BUCS event in Sheffield.

Within four months of that record-breaking day, Harris lined up against the best-of-the-best in the World Championships 100m backstroke final in Budapest.

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Medi Harris competes in the women’s 100m backstroke finals during the Budapest 2022 World Aquatics Championships.

“I didn’t feel more pressure from the larger crowd, but I think you naturally put more pressure on yourself,” she said.

“It made me realise that I like swimming in those types of competitions and at that level.”

From the Bahamas to Birmingham – sparking the dream

Swimming in the Hungarian capital was a far cry from her first outing in Glaslyn pool, nestled in the north-western coastal town of Porthmadog, Gwynedd.

“There are only 25m pools in North Wales. But my former Swim Gwynedd coach, Bron Hill, used to organise 50m training every other Saturday, where we’d have a day out on the bus to Manchester or Stockport,” she added.

Hill coached Harris during her teenage years, and fully supported her development in the pool until her move down to Swansea at the age of 17.

“Getting up at 4.30am four mornings a week as well as four evening swim sessions is not an easy task at any age, let alone for a 14-year-old,” he said.

Having continued with her studies alongside Swim Wales’s elite programme in Swansea, Harris was one of a handful of athletes allowed to keep on training as Covid-19 hit.

“Personally, I think it actually helped my progress a lot. We couldn’t train for the first couple of weeks, but then around 12 of us were allowed back in the pool by Swim Wales under strict guidelines,” she added.

“At the time, we weren’t focusing on any specific targets. But, as lockdown began to ease, British Swimming were really good with organising meets coming out of the pandemic.”

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Freya Anderson, Lucy Hope, Medi Harris and Anna Hopkin (L-R) after winning the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Final at the European Aquatics Championships Rome 2022.

Following on from making the World Championships final on debut in Budapest, Harris marked the second half of her breakthrough year with Commonwealth bronze and four medals at the European Championships in Rome.

Donning the Welsh swim cap, Harris crossed the border to clinch third place behind backstroke stalwarts Kaylee McKeown (Australia) and Kylie Masse (Canada) in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“We’re such a tight knit group in Swim Wales, especially after lockdown where we’d experienced the same journey together. It was special to be able to share those moments with the rest of the team,” she said.

“I had quite a few family members and friends there – including my two sisters, who I could hear screaming when I was standing on the podium!”

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Medi Harris (R) poses with her bronze medal after the Women’s 100m Backstroke Final at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

It wasn’t Harris’s first Commonwealth experience, however, having jetted off to the Bahamas and the Youth Commonwealth Games as a 14-year-old.

“I always say that was one of my best trips, it was so unexpected as I was only 14,” she said. “I didn’t have any expectations going into it, but after doing quite well I realised that I wanted to take swimming much more seriously going forward.”

‘Getting on the podium is the dream’

With Paris 2024 looming, preparation is already well underway for Harris and her Team GB teammates at an altitude training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, situated over 2000m above sea level.

“It was intense. We swam ten sessions and three gym sessions weekly for three weeks on repeat,” Harris admitted.

“Because it’s at high altitude everything is just so much harder, especially breathing.”

Medi Harris alongside Team GB teammates Freya Anderson and Katie Shanahan (L-R) during their altitude training camp in Arizona. Credit: @mediharris

But it’s these types of camps that make Olympians, with Harris set to embark on three more trips to Arizona before next summer.

“Everything that I’m doing from now has Paris as its endpoint. Getting on the podium is the dream,” she added.

“There’s a lot of depth at the top of women’s backstroke at the moment, but it’s something for me to aspire to push for in the future.”

She will be attempting to defend her 100m backstroke crown for the third time at the British Championships next April, which would confirm her spot on the plane to Paris.

“I was quite young at the last Olympic trials. But next year, I’ve got lots of expectations and hopes, so I’m raring for it. I’ll be focusing on freestyle for the women’s relay, 100m back and maybe 200 back too,” she said.

“50m backstroke isn’t an Olympic length, but I’d love for it to be on the programme in the future, as everyone is so close at the finish line.”

With the season having started successfully in Romania, Harris finally reflected on a whirlwind 18 months and hopes that the early-season work will pay dividends come next summer.

“It makes me really proud to see how far I’ve come, and gives me hope and excitement for what comes in the future.”


  • William Gruffudd Thurtle

    William, 22, is a trilingual Welshman, trying to find his way in the bustling metropolis. A competitive (yet admittedly average) sportsman, William is ready to dip his hand into any sport, with a keen eye on all news leading towards the Paris 2024 Games. Rugby editor. Tennis co-editor.