Swimming: Adlington embarks on Olympic mission with statement of intent

  • @RobinScottEllio

Two days down and a dozen in the bag. It is as stark as that; finish in the top two and inside the required time and a place at the home Games is the reward. There is no more crushing championships in which to win a bronze – then endure the medal ceremony – than these Olympics trials and the unifying emotion of all the qualifiers, be it Rebecca Adlington, with her two Olympic golds, or 17-year-old Craig Benson, who grabbed his place in the 100m breaststroke by three-hundredths of a second, was simple: relief.

"So much relief, happiness, excitement," Adlington said moments after winning the 400m freestyle in the Olympic pool last night. "An amazing feeling – it is four years of training. It is the biggest thing that everyone's going to experience. I wanted it so badly. London's always been my target and to finally know that I'm going is just the best feeling. I was very nervous. Every single swimmer here will be nervous – it's the biggest meet of our lives."

In the build-up to the British Swimming Championships, which double as the trials, Adlington, who swam in a suit with a Union flag design, had claimed she found the prospect of this week "scary" but on the evidence of last night it is others who should be feeling a tingle of alarm. Her time of 4min 2.35sec was 0.28sec outside the mark set by Federica Pellegrini in winning the event at last year's World Championships.

"Were you sending a message to Pellegrini?" suggested an Italian journalist. The thought had not crossed Adlington's mind but her form at this early stage of the season, in both the 400m and the 800m, is as good as it has ever been. She led from start to finish, followed home by Jo Jackson. The first four finishers were all inside the qualifying time.

It has been a good start to the trials for July's host nation, 11 swimmers now in the team to add to Keri-Ann Payne, who had already qualified in the open water. Only in the men's 400m freestyle has the runner-up not swum fast enough. Michael Scott, the Australian who is Britain's national performance director, called the women's team the strongest the country has ever had on the eve of the meet.

Hannah Miley set the tone on Saturday, underlining her medal potential in the 400m individual medley and that was taken up from the off last night in the women's 100m butterfly final, where Ellen Gandy overtook Fran Halsall in the closing stages and took Halsall's national record too, touching in 57.25sec. Halsall had turned inside world record time before Gandy, a 200m specialist, caught up over the last 25m. It left Jemma Lowe in third and having to look elsewhere to earn an Olympics place.

"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Gandy said. "All I have wanted to do over the last four years is to say, 'I'm going to the Olympics'."

It was a sentiment echoed again and again. "I'm on the team and that's all that matters," said Halsall, a Commonwealth and World Championship medallist and a second-time Olympian. "[The trials are] where you can either achieve your dreams or you haven't got your dreams any more. Your dream is to go to the Olympic Games and once you're there anything can happen but if you don't get your ticket... that's the biggest pressure."