Olympics: Prospects for gold: Gillingham seeks hard currency: Guy Hodgson on the British swimmer who is ready for a double dose of success in the pool at the Olympics

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FOR half a lifetime Nick Gillingham was the pecked in the pecking order. Like a Patrese to a Mansell or a Woosnam to a Faldo it is he who had to live in the shade of another's achievements. A study in being the understudy.

No matter what the 25-year-old from Walsall did, Adrian Moorhouse would outdo it. When Gillingham won a silver in the Seoul Olympics his older and, for a long time, better won gold; when he was collecting bronze medals in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, Moorhouse was having his neck decorated by gold.

No matter that he had been ill in Auckland, it was the currency of the medals that mattered and Moorhouse's was more valuable. Even his name, damn it, was mispronounced as often as not with a soft G as in Gillingham of Kent.

Until 1991. For the last 18 months it has been Gillingham who has had the upper hand, pushing his rival into the unaccustomed underdog status. And it is he who represents Britain's best chance of fishing anything more valuable than silver from the swimming pool. Not just in one event, but two.

Gillingham's emergence from the shade of another's achievements began with the European championships last year when he became the first man successfully to defend the European 200m breaststroke title while Moorhouse was being usurped in the 100m.

The most comprehensive overturning of reputations, however, came in the British Olympic trials in Sheffield two months ago when Gillingham not only ended his eternal rival's 10-year hold on the British record in the shorter event but set the second fastest time (1min 01.33sec) in history. For good measure the former 200m world record-holder also swam the second fastest time in history in the longer event of 2min 11.62sec.

'I do my training in seven-week cycles,' he said, 'and it just happened that the trials coincided with my peak within that cycle. I'd already been preselected for the 200 so to do what I did in the 100 was great. It was a fantastic boost to my confidence.' Moorhouse put it more succinctly. Nick, he agreed, 'had made his statement'.

Gillingham, who is closer to the world record in the 100m breaststroke than he is in the 200m, says that the trials have refocused his attention to an extent, so the 200m now takes only a 60-40 precedence over the shorter event. Which could imply a serious, early dent in his psyche if he falls short of a medal when he competes against Moorhouse in Sunday's 100m breaststroke.

'Oh no,' he said, laughing. 'I still regard the 100 as a bonus. Obviously if I swam really badly it would give me cause for thought but if I get near to my best time I'll know my preparations are right. It's still the secondary event, I'll not let what happens in the 100 get to me no matter what I do.'

As for the rivalry factor both swimmers have sought to suppress it. 'A couple of years ago there was an element between us,' Moorhouse said, 'but most of it was what we may or may not have said to the press. There was no real animosity then and there certainly isn't any now. We're fine.'

Gillingham said: 'There would be no point in making the 100m a thing between Adrian and myself because there are three or four other swimmers who could beat the pair of us. It would be foolish for either of us to concentrate on beating the other because we'd probably both end up with nothing. Only tenths of a second separate the top five or six swimmers. I take the view that Adrian had all the big build-up in previous big championships, now it's my turn to face the pressure.'

As for his 'statement' at Sheffield, he believes there needs to be a clarification. 'Don't read too much into it,' he said. 'Adrian hadn't shaved down (the removal of all visible body hair which can cut a second off a swimmer's time) so his 1:02.04 was phenomenal.'

So has Gillingham a chance of emulating Moorhouse and returning from an Olympic Games with a gold? 'I have a chance of medals but what sort they will be is anyone's guess,' he said. 'My preparation's gone well, I feel good. If I swim two personal bests I'll be delighted. I'd have justified the expectations I have set myself. I couldn't ask for more than that.'

The bests could be good enough for a unique sweep of both Olympic breaststroke events and two golds. A fortnight from now people in Kent may be saying: 'No Gillingham with a soft G. As in Jill.'

(Photograph omitted)