On The Road To 2012: I need to be in a pool improving my speed rather than training in lakes and rivers

Postcard from Würzburg

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The Independent Online

At the last Olympics in Beijing, I was the flag-bearer for Bulgaria during the opening ceremony. I have represented my country in swimming at the last three Games. I hope London will be number four.

First I need to qualify. The qualification event for the 10km open swimming is in Setubal, Portugal, on 10 June. There are 24 places in all in the Olympic race and 10 have already been taken by the first 10 finishers at the World Championships in Shanghai last July – including Thomas Lurz, who I train with here in his home city in Germany, and who won the bronze medal in the event in Beijing.

That leaves 15 more spots available in Setubal. They will go to the first nine across the line, then the first finishers after that from each of the five different continents.

I hope I make it because Britain is a special place to me. That is why I compete in the Great Swim series organised by Nova International. They are the best-organised open water events I have ever swum in.

For me, the most prestigious thing in open water swimming is the English Channel. It is the toughest event and it has a history going back to 1875, when Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to make the crossing unaided. He didit in 21 hours 45 minutes.

On the exact 132nd anniversary of Captain Webb's swim – on 25 August 2007 – I became the first person to swim the Channel in under seven hours; it took six hours 57 minutes.

That still stands as the record and it will be very hard to beat because the Channel is really tough. People have compared it with climbing Everest.

I have won everything in the longer swims and I much prefer them. But the Olympic open water distance is only 10km. That is why I am here in Würzburg with Thomas. I moved here 18 months ago with my family. I needed to change my training completely and focus only on 10km.

I've done open water swimming for 15 years so I don't need to acclimatise to it. I do all of my training in the swimming pool here. The weather conditions in Germany don't allow us to swim outdoors. The pool is the best place because you have the exact distance. You have a clock and you can check your time every 100m.

Würzburg is a student city in Bavaria. There is a big university here and a very good swimming club which was established in 1905, which is why it's called Würzburg 05.

Thomas is a member, which is why I came here – to train with him. He was the silver medallist in the 10km open water swim at last year's World Championships. I won the gold in the 25km event there.

As I said, I much prefer the longer events but 10km is the Olympic distance so I need to be in a pool improving my speed and my speed endurance rather than training outdoors, in lakes and rivers.

I know in London it is going to be six laps of 1.66km on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I know it is a nice lake. I just hope I can qualify and be there for my fourth Olympics.