With only few months till Danny Boyle’s lavish opening ceremony kicks off London 2012, the pressure being mounted on our young sportsmen and women to deliver the medals has reached epic proportions, not least for Beijing poolside champion, Rebecca Adlington.
Al Gordon finds out more…
The Nottinghamshire native was the sleeper champ of the 2008 Games, claiming two gold medals, and becoming the first British swimmer to win more than one gold medal at a single Olympics since Henry Taylor clinched three way back in 1908…
…and now, all eyes are focused on the aquatic superstar to deliver and develop on her Olympian progress. Two medals simply won’t do for the British press (sporting and mainstream)... at the last check they were demanding a clean sweep.
One little issue, mind: the 22-year-old has yet to qualify for the Games – although this task should be akin to a leisurely paddle for the golden girl of the pool.
Ms Adlington herself, however, is far more pragmatic in her approach. “A woman came up to me in M&S the other day and said: 'Good luck!’ “And this is what I’ve been getting for the last three-and-a-half years, intensifying in the last few months. I need to stress to everyone, I haven’t qualified yet. Everyone thinks it’s a done deal, but I still have to get to the next stage, like everyone else. I’m quietly confident as my training’s been going fantastically well, but again, you never know. And that’s every athlete’s attitude: take one goal at a time.”
Adlington, who grew up in Mansfield, has now stepped up her training regime for the final stretch before the qualifiers this month. And while 5am starts may sound like hell-on-earth for the average punter, it’s all part and parcel of the Olympian’s schedule, one that requires up to four hours a day in the pool, 90-minute gym sessions and regular long distance runs. The swimmer also has to eat every two hours – lean meat, healthy carbs, fruit and vegetables – just to keep going.
“My preparations are really heating up and I’m very busy,” she says. “I have ten sessions in the pool as well as all the gym work. I know the amount of work I do sounds like a real drag, and no-one can figure out why I want to be up before 5am every morning, but I love it.”
Can she ever let her hair down and indulge? She must have scoffed a few mince pies over the festive season, surely? “Of course, I treat myself, especially around Christmas. That would be pretty depressing otherwise. But that could be one day out of a whole month, and when it’s getting this close to the important races, I can’t slip up. It could be the difference between winning and losing.”
Having diligently followed such a strict fitness regime and diet, Rebecca’s earned an amazing lean, toned body that most would kill for. It’s surprising to learn then that body hang-ups still plague her.
"I find it hard enough to keep my weight down anyway. I'm a big girl, so I worry about it. I can't eat too much or it shows straight away. I'm a size 12 and have big shoulders and huge calves. How many people that size would be seen in front of millions in a swimming costume?"
Between the pressures to maintain a toned physique – strengthened by the nation’s vaulted expectations – does it sometimes all get too much?
She’s quick to shrug off the suggestion. “No, not really… I know how to relax and switch off. And the attention is something you get used to,” she explains. “I felt very daunted by the interest in me before, especially in things like talking to the media. Over time though, you realise the interest is a good thing – people have always been supportive of me so far and I actually have had nothing but good press coverage.”
“The bottom line is that everyone, be it fans or journalists, want to see me do well. People have just said, 'Well done or good luck’. And no one’s ever commented on my weight, that’s my personal issue, like so many others.”
With the qualifiers on the horizon and the Games themselves not far behind, Adlington seems remarkably composed, and, dare I say, unfeasibly relaxed? "Oh believe me, I’m a ball of stress in the inside but I seem to hide it well. I'm starting to feel very excited. The countdown to London is going to go so fast and it will be just amazing competing at an Olympics in front of a home crowd, if all goes well in the stages beforehand. But even the run-up to that is amazing, scary… and amazing again.”