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Battling for bronze

Having three all-time greats ahead of him has hindered James Goddard but a medal is in reach this time, he tells Robin Scott-Elliot

James Goddard runs a hand through his beard. "I am quite hairy," he says. "Literally from head to toe. It all comes off. I usually start two days before my race – I do it all apart from my back. Simon Burnett is my room-mate and he is the lucky one who gets to shave my back for me."

Burnett will have to deliver the closest shave of Goddard's career. If the 29-year-old, born in the Seychelles but now very much from Stockport, is to stand any chance of setting foot on an Olympic podium then every little thing will have to go in his favour.

It is not that Goddard is not a world-class athlete. He is, only he is a world-class athlete who happens to have been born at the wrong time. A few years earlier or a few years later and he would have had an excellent chance of winning an Olympic medal, except he faces the aquatic equivalent of the Andy Murray glass ceiling. Instead of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Goddard has to contend with the greatest swimmer ever and the man who might out-medal him in London, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Which, in effect, leaves him in a race for bronze with Laszlo Cseh who is, to use Goddard's own words, "probably the third-best all-round swimmer of all time.

"So I've got them all in my event which is fantastic!" says Goddard and grins disarmingly. Fortune has not been a lane-mate of Goddard's. He missed out on a medal in Athens by 0.2sec – that was in backstroke but he has now been forced to give up the event as has been dogged by a degenerative shoulder injury in recent years, one that requires daily treatment. A mystery illness disrupted his preparation for the British trials earlier this year. He received his silver medal – at trials doubled as the British Championships – sporting a "Why always me?" Mario Balotelli T-shirt.

"It would be a dream to stand on the podium with those two boys," says Goddard. "Michael Phelps is the best athlete ever to walk this planet, in my opinion – in any sport. To be in the same race and, hopefully, be on the podium with him would be a dream come true. Every day that is all I think about, really. My race plan, my race model, how I want to hit each split on the fly, the back, the breast and the freestyle and I want to be on that podium, no doubt.

"The last two Olympics I've been fourth and sixth and this is going to be my last Games, no doubt, so it's all or nothing. That is why I am so persistent with my shoulder, seeing the physio every day and making sure I leave nothing to chance. I want to get in there and race and race tough and see if I can't scare those boys a little bit."

The swimmers arrived in the Olympic Village yesterday but Goddard's event does not get under way for another week, by which time Phelps and Lochte will be in full swing in their quests for seven and six golds respectively. Goddard would be happy with one bronze.

"No one said it was going to be easy, it is a bronze, it is a medal," he says. "You've got to race and beat the best and from a personal point of view that is what you want."

And Goddard has a go-faster trick up his sleeve. Another grin: "Once I shave all this hair off I'll feel as light as a bird."