Linda Bennett was clapping her hands so hard and jumping up and down so fast that it looked like she was going to take off. Rebecca Adlington's first swimming teacher was among 50 supporters who had gathered in the Oak Tree Leisure Centre in Mansfield to will their heroine on to a medal.
Hopes were realistic, but when Adlington turned into the final length in third place the roof nearly flew off. Beccymania was back in this former mining town. "That was absolutely fantastic," said Mrs Bennett, with tears in her eyes. "I thought she might just pick it up you know," she added.
Her former head coach Ian Negus at the Sherwood Colliery Swimming Club agreed. "That is a great result. She was up against it and it was a difficult race. There were a lot of very fast girls in it so she will be proud of herself," he added. Owen Wakefield, 11, a member of the Nova Squad, who watched her Beijing triumph while on holiday in Skegness four years ago, was among those motivated to take up the sport by the local hero. "She did really well, especially as she was in lane eight and couldn't see the opposition," he said. "I'm ecstatic," said Mansfield Museum curator Jodie Henshaw, "but whatever she had done we would have been proud of her," she said.
A tweet from Adlington earlier had sought to put a lid on expectations. She told fans that she would try her best but that she was "not expecting much". But even if she failed in her attempt to become the first woman to retain the 400m title since Martha Norelius in 1928, bronze was good enough for her home town.
Earlier, young swimmers at the Rebecca Adlington Swimming Centre had taken part in an event to promote the sport at the eponymous pool. Councillors took the unanimous decision to rename Sherwood Baths in 2009 and later gave it a £5m makeover. It was here that the Adlington story began – she started having lessons aged six and was soon training six times a week. As a result of her experiences she has become committed campaigner against local pool closures.
The swimmer was treated to a jubilant reception when she returned from Beijing in 2008 with two golds and a world record. She was driven through the town centre in an open-topped bus and cheered on by a 15,000-strong crowd, having earlier been taken to the town hall in gold Rolls-Royce and presented with a pair of gilded Jimmy Choo shoes.
"Rebecca's a really good technical swimmer. It's a real inspiration to see someone from here taking part in the Olympics and makes me feel I could achieve it too," said 13-year-old Matthew Moore yesterday as he swam the lanes named after her.
Until Ms Adlington's success, Mansfield's most famous son was Shane Fenton, better known to 1970s rock audiences as Alvin Stardust. Mansfield will never forget what Adlington has done. On Thursday they will be willing her on even harder as she battles over her favoured distance of 800m.
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