Adlington's gold brings smile to faces of ailing swimming team

Prior to the morning swimming heats at the Dr SP Mukherjee Aquatics Complex yesterday, the water in the Commonwealth Games pool was tested by chemists seeking the source of the bug that has swept through the ranks of several national swimming squads. There was a suspicion that the pigeons who roost in the rafters had been dropping down their worst into the water below. Nothing contagious was found, though, and as the search moved on to the food hall in the athletes' village the day finished with English gold, rather than pigeon poo, in the Commonwealth pool.

It was Rebecca Adlington's big night and even a dose of the trots was not going to poop the party for the Mansfield water maiden. Neither was a rival by the name of Trott, for that matter.

Not since Adlington struck Olympic gold in world-record time in the Beijing Water Cube two years ago had she emerged victorious from a major championship final in her specialist event, the 800m freestyle. At last year's world championships in Rome she finished fourth. At the European championships in Budapest in August she was seventh.

When it came to the Commonwealth final yesterday, Adlington was not to be denied – despite being one of those in the English squad who have been afflicted by a case of Delhi Belly. The 21-year-old set off at a furious pace and was almost four seconds up on the field at halfway. Wendy Trott of South Africa closed the gap in the second 400m but finished 2.27sec down in second place.

Adlington touched the wall in 8min 24. 69sec, missing Tracey Wickham's 32-year-old Games record by a tantalising 0.07sec. Not that she was bothered. "It wasn't about the time," she said. "Coming here, if I wanted to get a gold medal it was in the 800. This is my first Commonwealth Games so it means a lot to me."

It meant so much that Adlington never considered withdrawing, even when she was hit by the curse that had her England team-mate Fran Halsall in a state of collapse on Wednesday. "There was never a doubt that I would swim," Adlington said. "It was never that bad with me."

The problem was serious enough for the England team management to ask the Games organisers to test the water at the complex. It was also serious enough to scupper Halsall in her specialist event, the 100m freestyle, on Wednesday. The morning after her struggle for third place in that final, though, the 20-year-old Southport woman was back in the pool for the heats of the 50m freestyle. Sustained by fluids and a solitary slice of bread, she showed her mettle, recording the fastest winning heat time, 25.05sec. Later, after managing a bowl of plain pasta for lunch, she returned to win her semi-final, clocking 25.20sec.

"I'm still not great," Halsall confessed, "but if I keep getting stronger hopefully I'll feel a lot better for the final tomorrow night. I've never felt as bad as I did yesterday. It was the kind of situation I don't think any athlete wants to be in but I managed to pull myself through and I'm really proud of how I did."

According to Gemma Spofforth, who recovered from the disappointment of her bronze medal swim in the 100m backstroke on Wednesday to set a Games record of 28.30sec in the 50m backstroke heats yesterday morning, the resilience within the England camp could give them an edge over the final two days of competition at the Games pool. "I've heard swimmers from a lot of countries saying, 'I want to go home now'," she said. "There are people saying they are fed up with it. We are just keeping our spirits high. Everyone else is really down so we can pick ourselves up."

Three other English swimmers picked up medals yesterday. They were all silvers: from Ellen Gandy in the 100m butterfly, Simon Burnett in the 100m freestyle and Joe Roebuck in the 400m individual medley. There was also a bronze for Wales' Jemma Lowe behind the prolific Aussie Alicia Coutts – who has three golds now – and Gandy in the 100m butterfly.

Delhi Diary: What to watch

9.30am: Arching for success

With England's men and women, who included history-making Paralympian Danielle Brown, both winning Compound team gold, expectation falls on the Recurve team. The women's final at 5.42am may come a bit early for most to watch live, but at 9.30am catch the men in semi-final action. The final, should they make it, will be at 10.42am.

11.39am: Home nations take to pool

One of the main races of day five will be the men's 50m breaststroke final, where England's Daniel Sliwinksi and Welsh hopeful Rob Holderness represent the home nations. Then, at 12.42pm, Becky Adlington, fresh from her 800m gold yesterday, joins compatriots Jazmin Carlin and Jo Jackson to take part in the women's 400m freestyle.

2.30pm: Badminton play-off

England's mixed badminton team take part in the bronze-medal tie following yesterday's 3-0 defeat to hosts India. They will be up against Scotland, while India take on Malaysia in the final.

Benji Inwood

TV 8-11am, 1-2.15pm, BBC2. 11am-1pm, 2.15-5pm, BBC1. Highlights: 7-8pm BBC2. Additional coverage: BBCi.