Outside the Olympic Park a giant poster of Ellie Simmonds will greet the many thousands of spectators en route to the Paralympic Games. She is the athlete the British public are most looking forward to seeing over the course of the 11 days of the Games, starting from tomorrow, but none of that seemingly phases a 17-year-old who "loves being the centre of attention".
Simmonds leapt from nowhere into the national consciousness with her two gold medals in Beijing as a 13-year-old, the youngest Briton to win Paralympic gold, and will swim in four events in London – in a pool where she has already broken a world record.
"It gets me really excited," she said when asked yesterday how she deals with the increasing focus. "I just saw [the poster] this morning as I was going to training and it made me laugh. To have that type of thing really gets me into racing. I love being the centre of attention really, it gives me a big buzz."
Britain's Paralympic swimmers have been set a target of 40-50 medals. In the Olympics it was the host nation's one area of marked failure as many of the athletes appeared to be overawed by the occasion, but Simmonds, in the wake of setting the first world record in the Aquatics Centre in the trials earlier this year, believes she will thrive with the home support.
"Mentally [the world record] does give me an advantage," she says. "Everyone's different, everyone's suited to different things, environments, but personally for me it gave me a massive buzz walking out in Beijing even though they weren't cheering for me," she says.
"Walking out in London will be nerve-racking. I think every race at the Paralympic Games is nerve-racking, it being a home Games as well. But I'm just looking forward to racing. I'm in great shape, I'm having a great lead-up. Just a few more days and then I'm racing on Saturday. It's so exciting."Reuse content