Jazz Carlin is not a morning person. But for six days out of every seven, the alarm sounds at 5.30am, the blow of the early hour never getting any easier despite this sequence of events having been going on for years now.
By 6am she is scything through the water in metronomic fashion, lap after lap. It is a relentless, repetitive existence. She won her first medal at the World Championships back in 2009 but this year the 24-year-old Carlin finally lived up to her potential.
There was a first Commonwealth Games title in the 800 metres freestyle as well as a silver in Glasgow over the 400m, followed in quick succession by double titles at the European Championships only a few days later.
It is no wonder she describes herself on Twitter as “living the dream” and looks on the last season as the “year of my life – I couldn’t have expected or hoped for any more”. But now her sights are set on the short course World Championships in Doha from 3 December as part of a 12-strong British team. Keeping up her form will be a tough ask.
As she has ridden the crest of the wave, the Manchester United fan has enjoyed myriad media opportunities, including sharing a sofa on TV with Rio Ferdinand. Rio is constantly on her mind, though not in the footballing sense. Everything from Doha onwards is geared towards the next Olympics in Brazil.
Lying in her wake is the American teenager Katie Ledecky, the vanquisher of Becky Adlington at London 2012 and an athlete Carlin knows she needs to beat to become Olympic champion.
For now, though, Carlin’s motives are modest. “Rio’s the main aim, just to stay healthy up to Rio and then be the best I can be.”
The Swansea swimmer’s past has taught her to be cautious, the dream to swim at London 2012 – her driving factor in all those early mornings as long as she can remember – denied by poor health.
It started with glandular fever in 2011, unsettling enough in its own right, before she was struck down by recurring tonsillitis every two to three weeks.
“I achieved the Olympic qualifying time but because I was only fourth at the trials I didn’t make the team,” she recalls. “It was pretty hard. But you have to take the good with the bad. It wasn’t my time and I had to see the positives.”
But as her rivals had their moment in the spotlight at the Olympic pool, Carlin was getting ready to have her tonsils removed. Since then she has been fit and healthy, able to put in a consistent block of training to enable her to reach her peak for arguably the first time in a promising career.
“In some ways, missing London was a blessing,” she says. “I saw not making London as a failure and it’s been a big drive for me since. It was a place I’d dreamt of being for a long time but it wasn’t to be.”
Instead there was Glasgow 2014, and a chance to compete and shine in front of a British crowd, her family and friends. “It’s amazing that it finally paid off,” she says, all the more so as her build-up was disrupted by her coach, Bud McAllister, announcing while she was on a training camp in Tenerife in April that he was heading to Australia to a new job.
“It wasn’t the easiest of phone calls,” she admits. “My first reaction was to cry. I was in shock. But then I thought, ‘It’s never easy but life’s not easy, get on with it and make the most of what you’ve got.’ After that, I never worried about it. I just got on with it.”
Such an attitude has been helped by more serious issues for her family and her boyfriend, fellow swimmer Lewis Coleman. It is 10 years since Carlin’s father suffered a stroke while she was swimming. She recalls “trying to be as strong as we could for Dad”, and he made a full recovery.
The latest battle has been that of Coleman’s mother Mags, who was diagnosed with leukaemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant last year. “She’s such a strong character and she’s doing OK at the minute,” says Carlin. “But it’s quite tough.”
Now Carlin has important decisions to make over who her new coach will be and where she bases herself between now and Rio 2016.
Dave McNulty, who coaches the likes of Michael Jamieson, in Bath would be a potential fit, although there are other options. Carlin knows the decision is a key one as she looks to continue on her upward trajectory.Reuse content