Star of pool is all-time great
Sunday 17 August 2008
Arise Dame Rebecca Adlington. The cry is sure to come soon, and loud, from the British public, as the bookmakers already make the East Midlands teen-ager favourite for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
If Kelly Holmes got the honour from the Queen for winning double gold in Athens, then the 19-year-old Adlington, from Mansfield, made her own case yesterday in emphatic fashion by winning the 800m freestyle gold here to add to the 400m gold already in the bag.
The magnitude of her achievement becomes apparent when you consider not just the uniqueness of her feats but the response from the swimming world. Veteran observers from America, the planet's strongest swimming nation, were among those who echoed the view of Adlington's coach, Bill Furniss. "An awesome achievement, frighteningly fast," said Furniss of yesterday's win. "That has to be up there as one of the all-time great swims."
In pulverising her seven opponents over her favoured longer distance, Adlington smashed the longest-standing world record in swimming, set in 1989, the year of her birth. Back then, America's Janet Evans clocked 8min 16.22sec. That mark stood until the Briton swam 8:14.10 yesterday, in front of an audience including Evans.
"I'd have laughed in your face if you'd suggested to me before Beijing that I'd break that record," the teenager said. "I knew when I touched the wall I was going to win gold, but I did not expect the record. To do it by that much is unbelievable."
Adlington becomes the first British woman to win two swimming Olympic gold medals, let alone in one Games. Britain has had 17 swimming gold medallists in history, but only seven golds since the Second World War. Adlington has two of them. She is only the third British athlete in any sport since the war to win two golds at the same Olympics. The others were Holmes (800m and 1500m on the track) and Richard Meade (Munich, 1972, three-day eventing). Adlington becomes the third British swimmer to win more than one gold at one Games. The other two were in the sepia age: Henry Taylor won three in 1908 and John Jarvis two in 1900.
Yesterday's star of the pool is the heart of a bright young future for British swimming. She finished 6.13sec ahead of Alessia Filippi of Italy, and 8.93sec clear of Denmark's Friis Lotte in third. Such supremacy bodes well with London 2012 on the agenda.
She insisted fame and fortune will not change her. "I'm still going to be in the pool every morning and night. Whatever else happens in my life, it will come second to my swimming. Some people might think I've done it now, achieved the goals. But London, my home Olympics, is going to be huge for me."
Furniss has coached his young charge since the age of 12 at the Nova Centurion club in Nottingham. He describes her as "the ultimate racer", who trains so hard that on occasion he has to tell her to stop. "Some of the training sets are amazing. Technically she's superb. Her stroke is economical, strong, perfectlybalanced. Two golds and a world record is surreal. On those starting blocks the pressure can crack you. But with Becky the pressure makes her stronger."
Furniss joked of the potential of Adlington becoming a Dame: "After this I'll have to starteach session by saying, 'Would you like to get in the pool now, Ma'am?"
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