Britain banking on Pickering glittering

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The Independent Online

Karen Pickering carries the weight of British expectation when she defends her title at the World Short Course Championships in Rio de Janeiro, starting today.

The Ipswich swimmer, 24 next month, is the only one of three British gold medallists at the inaugural championships in Palma, Majorca, two years ago to have a chance of repeating that success in Brazil.

The four-day world championships, in a 25-metre pool specially built on the Copacabana beach, begins three days after the international federation, Fina, decided to impose tougher penalties for doping abuse.

Fina has doubled the previous maximum ban to four years for tests revealing the use of anabolic steroids and has introduced retroactive bans to take away from offenders medals and records achieved in the previous 12 months. The four-year ban must include an Olympics.

Pickering, who also won a 100m freestyle bronze medal to go with her 200m freestyle gold in Britain's most successful championships in more than a decade, is confident she can take her latest challenge in her stride.

She said: "It's just another meet. In Palma I knew I could do personal best times and I am the same here."

This time, however, Pickering will have to beat the challenge of German multi Olympic, world and European medallist Franziska Van Almsick, who missed the Palma championships.

Britain's own Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth medallist of the early 1980s, Sarah Hardcastle, is hungry for further success.

However, the 26-year-old said: "It's harder now as a senior than as a junior. I know I was a cocky youngster but now I have more respect for my rivals, which is not necessarily a good thing."

At the European Championships in Vienna last August, nerves got the better of Hardcastle. But this time she is contesting the 400m medley on the first day.

She said: "It will give me a chance to get used to the surroundings and a good swim will give me confidence."

Her main rivals in the 400m and 800m freestyle are Claudia Poll, of Costa Rica, and the German pair of Julia Jung - the European champion over 800m - and Dagmar Hase, the Olympic 400m champion.