British swimmer Jack Burnell and his coaches legitimately thought Burnell was a frontrunner in last year’s 10 km open-water event in Rio. But he got downgraded from third to fifth, and then disqualified, as he received a pair of yellow cards.
The first occurred when Burnell believed there was no one even close enough to interfere with him, and the second came when defending champion Oussama Mellouli grabbed him during the race’s closing stages. Burnell pushed Mellouli off so he could continue, but that didn’t matter to the officials. The contact warranted a second yellow card and disqualification.
At the time, Burnell was understandably furious. He called the officiating “a joke” and said the referees inserted themselves into the even when it wasn’t necessary because of their big egos.
11 months later, that rage hasn’t cooled down. BBC Sport caught up with Burnell as he heads to the World Championships in Budapest this week to begin his comeback, and here’s what the 24-year-old swimmer had to say:
“Sometimes I forget and I don’t think about it for a few days, but then there’ll just be something that triggers the memory,” says the 24-year-old.
“Then I’m feeling depressed about it and I think about how it was four years of hard work down the drain.
“I’ll be laying in bed and I can sometimes feel his hand on my leg. At that point it sends shivers down my spine.”
Burnell also mentioned how he felt he’d let his coaches and family down but worked through the “emotional rollercoaster” with sports psychologist Richard Hampson. With all that motivation, now Burnell now has more drive than ever as he heads to Hungary:
On Tuesday he will attempt to take the first step towards redemption at the World Championships in Budapest, and begin what he hopes will be a period of “sustained domination”.
“It’s going to be relentless,” he tells BBC Sport. “Winning is the only option now at every event, and the Worlds are just the start.”
“I want to prove to them and the world what should have been achieved at the Olympics and it would be a shame to throw away all those years of training and not give myself the opportunity.”