It is four days until Fran Halsall begins her remarkable quest for five Olympic medals. They might just feel like the four longest days of her young life.
With competition looming it is taper-time for the swimmers, when the usual hour upon hour, length after length in the pool is reduced to ensure they will climb on to the blocks of the Aquatic Centre in peak condition to race. It means there is time to kill – rest time when they are supposed to do exactly that, which is not always easy for the Tiggerish bundles of energy that are Halsall and her team-mates.
Britain's swimmers, of which much is expected, have spent the last week in a training camp in Edinburgh, taking tourist bus tours of the city and working out their competitive streaks in the games room at the team hotel.
"It's a waiting game now," says Halsall. "There's nothing I can do in training now that will make a difference. We're just resting, training easy and preparing. It leaves you with more time to think about things but we've got games like Kerplunk, Cluedo, Monopoly in the team room. Twister was put away. We're not allowed to play Twister. Monopoly got very competitive – nobody would trade with anyone. At this stage, time does pass slowly. But it's part of it. You just have to relax."
Thinking time leaves Halsall to consider yet again what lies ahead from Saturday morning. She will compete in the 100m fly, the 50m and 100m freestyle and the two relays, at which Britain have an outside chance of a place on the podium. The 22-year-old is ranked within the top five in the world in all three individual events but it is the 100m free, what she terms the blue riband women's event in the pool, that is her main objective.
"It would be nice to be the fastest woman in the world," she says. "That's the main thinking behind it. If I got one medal it would be brilliant – but a gold in the 100 free, that would be the ultimate for me. And it's going to be so close. There are a lot of girls who could win it."
Halsall has recorded the third fastest time of the year, behind Ranomi Kromowidjojo, the flying Dutchwoman, and the Swede Sarah Sjoestrom. To beat Kromowidjojo, who is also ranked No 1 in the 50m, she will have to swim faster than she ever has.
Halsall shrugs. "That's the point of the Olympics. That's what the game is, to swim faster than you've ever swum before. For various reasons I've not swum as quick as I can over the last couple of years. I've swum fast but not to my potential. But I've enjoyed a great preparation for these Games, and if the performance comes out on the day I will be there or thereabouts. It's kind of nice too because [Kromowidjojo] is the one who has done the time. That's my mentality, I've got to beat her. For me that's a better position than everyone's got to beat me. I would rather be the chaser than the one being chased."
Halsall has risen steadily through the list of contenders since finishing eighth in the 100m final in Beijing, although she was left disappointed with her fourth place at last year's world championships in Shanghai. At 5ft 8in she is on the small side for her event, but her power comes from long arms – similar to the likes of Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin she has an extraordinary 'wingspan'. Only Kromowidjojo has swum faster in the 50m this year, but it is the longer distance in which she craves success.
"The 50 is just fastest to the wall. You just bash it out. But the 100 is more technical. I've got good easy speed to 50. I think it comes a bit easier to me because I'm not as heavy and as muscular as some of the other girls. I do go out quick but it doesn't feel that hard."
Her greatest strength though, according to Ben Titley, her coach at Loughborough, is a simple one: she is born to race. "My coach says all he needs to do is get me there fit and healthy because I am a racer. I love it. Walking out there, strutting your stuff, and thinking, right, I'm going to try and beat these seven other women. That's what I like about it. That's the fun part. I like to get stuck in."Reuse content