Adlington family set off to watch their daughter aim for second gold
Monday 11 August 2008
Steve and Kay Adlington will embark tomorrow on a long-planned journey from Mansfield to China to watch their daughter Rebecca compete in her first Olympics in her best swimming event, the 800m freestyle, which starts on Thursday.
They first tried to buy seats months ago, but that ended in a loss of £1,100 to a scam internet company. And when they told Becky a few days ago that their legitimate replacement tickets were up in the Gods, the straight-talking teenager feared their view might be, in her words, "crap".
Yesterday morning, she exploded that notion as surely as the Chinese let off a few fireworks last Friday. By winning a thrilling 400m freestyle final here, she became the first British woman to win an Olympic swimming gold medal for 48 years.
As Steve, 50, and Kay, 48, take their Water Cube pews on Thursday, they will doubtless be thinking that no view of their Olympic champion daughter in action will be anything less than wonderful ever again.
"It's absolutely amazing. I can't actually believe it," said Adlington, after a victory snatched from America's Katie Hoff with a last-gasp touch to the wall. The margin was a trifling 0.07 seconds. When the BBC used their poolside monitor to show Adlington the final yards of the race immediately afterwards, she exclaimed to them: "See, I didn't win."
"Then they showed me the underwater shot and you can see that my hand just got there," she said. The glory was made sweeter still for Team GB because Britain's Jo Jackson, 21, took the bronze medal.
The magnitude of the achievement was matched only by the excitement it caused at the prospect of a genuine surge into contention by a generation of young British swimmers. Adlington is one of a posse of young British women rising to prominence. Fran Halsall, Jemma Lowe, Hannah Miley and Jackson are among the others.
Adlington, coached in Nottingham by Bill Furniss, has shown promise for years, exemplified by a European 800m silver medal in 2006. But she suffered a severe bout of glandular fever not long afterwards, and while her recovery has been superb, and her Olympic trial times excellent, this was her first test on the most important stage of all.
Flying colours? Oh yes. No Briton had won any Olympic gold in the pool since Adrian Moorhouse in 1988. No British woman had won a medal of any colour since 1984, which was also the last time two Britons shared a podium, Sarah Hardcastle and June Croft taking silver and bronze in the 400m free. Only a handful have even reached an Olympic final since.
Adlington, the fastest woman in the world over 800m in 2008, is now a firm favourite for that event. A win would catapult her into entirely uncharted waters. No British woman has won two Games swimming gold medals, ever.
Adlington and Jackson will both also swim in the 4x200m freestyle relay, which starts tomorrow, and the former sees no reason why she cannot depart the Orient with three medals of one colour or other. "I hope I can do well again in the 800m, and it's looking great for the relay team," she said. "I can't wait to get back in the pool."
There was self-criticism too, for not clocking a faster time. But that was something that Moorhouse, her predecessor in winning gold for GB, saw only as a positive trait. "That's a great mark of somebody who's going to go places," said the former breaststroker, a pundit here. "She really wants to improve, improve, improve."
Those finishing in Adlington's wake included the world record holder, Italy's Federica Pellegrini (in fifth), and the 2004 champion from Athens, France's Laure Manaudou, who came last.
A compelling battle of ebb and flow intensified at the 300m mark. At that stage Adlington was fourth and Jackson fifth, with Hoff leading, France's Coralie Balmy second and Pellegrini third.
But in the final 50m Adlington tore into Hoff's margin and then clipped ahead in the most vital fraction of a second.
"I saw Katie [Hoff] at 250m and saw her move off and I thought *Oh gosh, she's gone*," Adlington said. "But I told myself to stick with it. I was so tired but I came off the last turn and thought *Just go for it, you've got nothing to lose, just put your head down and go*. And I just went for it."
Among the first people she tried to contact were her boyfriend, Andrew Mayor, a 22-year-old butterfly swimmer from Scotland, and before that her parents, at home in England with her two older sisters, Chloe, 24, and Laura, 21. "As soon as I rang home, everyone was screaming and shouting.
"Then I got back to the Olympic village the team had stuck on the door 'Congratulations Becky'. Jo and I walked into the team meeting and everyone stood up and gave us a massive round of applause.
"It's just so nice from somebody like Mark Foster, who has been to five Olympic Games and I look up to, and for him to be doing that for me is just unbelievable. It's every sportsman's dream."
"I don't want to take my medal off. I walked into the dinner hall with it on and was just sat reading the internet with it on around my neck. It's the best day in my life so far."
Only after the Games end will she look to celebrate, perhaps by upgrading her Vauxhall Corsa to an Audi A3, "even if Jeremy Clarkson has slagged them off as Chavvy". Before that her parents have promised to indulge one of her other passions, buying posh shoes, probably a pair of Jimmy Choo's.
She needs nothing to put a spring in her step, though, and nor did British swimming last night. The feelgood factor extended to all five swimmers in action in heats. Caitlin McClatchey and Jackson (both in the 200m freestyle), Michael Rock (200m butterfly), Miley (200m individual medley) and Keri-Anne Payne (ditto) all reach later stages in those disciplines, scheduled for this morning, Beijing time.
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