Her time, 2min 01.46sec, was respectable but she had been going quicker in training. "I know I have a fast swim inside me," she said. Unfortunately she has not been able to locate that elusive high in either yesterday's event or the 100m on Saturday. Now she has just the relays to make amends.
In the 100m the 24-year-old's race was over almost as soon as she dived because she surfaced a foot behind the eventual winner, Le Jingyi. Yesterday it took longer for the faster pace of her opponents to sink in. She was fourth at the first turn and fourth at the finish but the crux of her failure was her 100m time of 59.37sec. From there a necessary time of less than 2min 01sec is very hard.
"I've not been feeling 100 per cent right," she said. "I don't why but I feel a little tired and heavy. I've been swimming fast times in training but it hasn't happened in the pool.''
There has been an on-going battle between Pickering and the Amateur Swimming Association because her coach, Dave Champion, has not been an accredited coach for either the Barcelona or the Atlanta Games. This time a halfway house has been reached where Champion has been in Georgia if not the official party.
Since Pickering moved into the athletes' village their contact has been reduced to meetings in the British Olympic Association hospitality tent and conversations over the phone. As she points out, "It's not ideal.''
If Pickering and the British are less than happy - Jaime King also failed to qualify in the 100m breaststroke - the atmosphere in the Chinese camp must be desperate. Two years ago they won 12 of the 16 women's medals at the world championships; in the heavily drugs-tested world in the build-up to Atlanta they are failing to even get to finals.
Yesterday both Chen Yan and Shan Ying trailed in behind Pickering when they had both recorded times in the top 10 this year. Respectively they were three and four seconds slower, which conforms to the trend which has seen, Le apart, the team underperform.
On the previous day, their compatriots in the 400m individual medley, the first two ranked women in the world, each swam 13 seconds slower than their best and failed to even qualify for the B final.
The Chinese blamed it on a faulty fire alarm that had gone off during the night, causing the team to spend half an hour outside although others disagreed. "The obvious conclusion is that, because of testing, they have to be more careful," Don Talbot, the Australian coach, said.
In contrast other nations - Belgium, Ireland - are thriving and it was South Africa's turn yesterday, Penelope Heyns setting a world record for the women's 100m breaststroke with 1min 07.02sec.Reuse content