Swimming legend Sharron Davies: At 61 I can still beat my 17-year-old rugby player son in core exercise

The ex-Olympian talks to Lauren Taylor about keeping fit in her 60s and living with arthritis in her knee.

Olympic silver medalist swimmer Sharron Davies may be 61, with nine knee surgeries under her belt, but she says she can still “drop down and do 40 press ups”.

Davies, who was selected for the Montreal Olympic Games at the age of just 11, retired in 1994 after breaking more than 200 British records in the pool, but fitness has continued to be a huge part of her life – especially as she gets older.

“I’ve got a 25-year-old daughter, who is an ex-international track and field athlete, and I can still beat her on core exercise. I can still beat my 17-year-old son, who plays really good rugby, on core stability and core exercise,” she says.

Davies, who famously held the Commonwealth Games record for the 400-metre individual medley event for 18 years, goes to the gym four times a week, cycles and walks now but, “I’m not an obsessed exerciser”, she says, “I used to do six hours a day, I now don’t do six hours a week.”

Fitness is still a big part of the retired athlete’s life
Fitness is still a big part of the retired athlete’s life

With her history in competitive sport (she won a silver at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and was Commonwealth champion twice), and her time on the original series of Gladiators as Amazon, and now as patron of Disabled Sport England and SportsAid, exercising is simply part of who she is.

“It’s always been a part of my life. I was an international at 11, so 50 years ago now. It’s just who I am. It’s almost automatic.”

But keeping active is especially important given the problems she’s had for a long time with her right knee. She first damaged it at 12 years old, getting her foot stuck in a pothole and tore her ACL. Thankfully, being a swimmer (a non-weight bearing sport) it didn’t affect her ability to train or compete.

“Then in 1995 I was doing Gladiators and a very lovely police woman, terribly apologetic, fell on my knee sideways and whatever was left of my ACL just went.”

Davies had an ACL reconstruction that year and nine further operations since then. “I have no cartilage left in that knee whatsoever, it’s just bone on bone,” says Davies, who was also diagnosed with grade four osteoarthritis in her knee about a decade ago.

“The last [operation] was seven years ago, when a really bad piece of cartilage that was left flew off and went into the joint so I couldn’t straighten my legs. And that was unbelievably painful.”

Sharron Davies during Arthrosamid treatment (CREDIT TBC)
Sharron Davies during Arthrosamid treatment (CREDIT TBC)

“I used to sit at nighttime just rubbing my knee watching the telly. It almost got to the point where I was doing it subconsciously all the time because it would get swollen and achy, and I would just live with [the pain]”. Even wearing tight jeans was painful.

Then in September 2022, she had a treatment called Arthrosamid – pain relief via a single injection for knee osteoarthritis. While it doesn’t cure the condition, patients can expect to see improved mobility and pain relief within a few weeks. “You literally go in, it’s done in the lunchtime, you don’t need any downtime,” says Davies, who is an ambassador for the jab. “About a week or 10 days afterwards, I’m thinking, ‘I’m not rubbing my leg’. It has given me unbelievable pain relief.” And she hasn’t needed a top up yet.

“All of a sudden, you realise that you’re being more mobile… I had to reel myself in, because all of a sudden, I was pain free and I’m doing three times as much. So I had to [say to myself] calm down.”

Eventually, she says, she’ll need a full knee replacement. “My knee is not very attractive,” she laughs, my right looks nothing like my left knee, it’s twice the size almost.

“If I were to go and see [a doctor] now they would look at my pictures and go, how are you walking? They don’t go, how are you cycling? How are you going to the gym?”. Davies puts it down to maintaining the muscles around the joint through mobility and fitness.

Davies ahead of the 2002 Commonwealth Games
Davies ahead of the 2002 Commonwealth Games (CROFT MALCOLM CROFT/PA)

It’s not the only part of her body she’s has undergone operations on; over the years she’s had broken ribs, two broken arms, a hernia op, a bladder op, multiple back and shoulder operations (pro swimmers often end up with lower back issues and over-rotated shoulders). “Oh my God [I’ve had] dozens. I’ve had seven or eight broken bones. I broke my leg not that long ago, I got knocked off my bike and broke my femur really badly.

“I can rebuild me, we just keep going!” she says, with a laugh. But her body’s resilience is due to all the work she does in the gym. “When I broke my leg I was back on my exercise bike within six days.”

She doesn’t swim now though. “Because for me, it’s a busman’s holiday. I did 20 years of my life, six hours a day – it’s quite enough for anybody really. I do it on holiday but, ultimately, it’s nice to do something else.” Plus, “when you have been a swimmer, the shoulders aren’t great, so I don’t like to aggravate them too much.”

Keeping fit “is not as easy at 60 as it was at 40. It wasn’t as easy at 40 as it was at 20. Unfortunately, it’s a linear line that’s going in the wrong direction”. But there is a lot that we can do to look after ourselves as we get older.

(Ian West/PA)

“The number of times people say to me, ‘My metabolism slowed down’. Well, it’s not that your metabolism that slowed down, you’ve lost muscle mass and it’s muscle mass that burns calories – if you don’t have muscles, you won’t burn the calories.”

Also, “It definitely makes me sadder if I don’t exercise, it absolutely does.” She’s on HRT for menopause symptoms, a multivitamin, vitamin D and cod liver oil, but when it comes to her wellbeing, a positive mental attitude is key.

“I’m a really big believer that your cup is half full”, she says, and positivity comes naturally to her.

“Why would it not? I’m a Olympian.”

For more information on Arthrosamid visit