One Year Out: Adlington could rule London pool for Great Britain
Rebecca Adlington won two gold medals in Beijing, broke the 19-year-old world record of Janet Evans in the 800-meter freestyle, and became Great Britain's most successful Olympic swimmer in a century -- all at the age of 19. What does she plan for an encore?
Well, the BBC asked Adlington what her goals were for London 2012.
"To go," she replied, with a chuckle. "I think that's the first step."
Merely showing up could have been achievement enough for Adlington at the 2008 Olympics, but qualifying alone won't please the masses next summer. She might be the primary female star for the host nation in a marquee sport normally dominated by the U.S. and Australia. And she has an opportunity to better her Beijing breakout.
Three years ago Adlington swept the 400- and 800-meter Olympic freestyle races, the women's distance events. She beat Italian world-record holder Federica Pellegrini in the 400 and took the oldest swimming world record off the books in the 800 (Adlington was six months old when Evans won in Seoul). The accolades included becoming Britain's first Olympic swimming champion since Adrian Moorehouse in 1988, its first female swimming champion since Anita Lonsbrough in 1960 and the first double gold medalist in swimming since Henry Taylor in 1908.
"She became a household name," Graeme Smith, one of Adlington's three agents hired after the Olympics, said in an email. "Her profile rocketed, but with that came responsibility and media/public scrutiny."
Her life away from the pool has taken a flip turn. A self-described "Miss Nobody," she's now tabloid material, including an entertainment section Q&A that got
Adlington said increased expectations got to her at the 2009 FINA World Championships. She fell to fourth in the 800 free and though she clocked a personal best in the 400 free, it was only good enough for bronze. She swam in a Speedo LZR -- the same suit she wore in Beijing, then top of the line -- a 50 percent polyurethane suit that had been antiquated by new, faster 100 percent polyurethane suits worn by every swimmer who beat her.
Swimming's governing body outlawed all polyurethane suits on Jan. 1, 2010. Reverting to old suits seems to have favored Adlington. In her two biggest meets of 2010, she won the 400 and the 800 at the Commonwealth Games and the 400 at the European Championships (where she hiccupped in the 800, finishing seventh). Adlington entered the world championships in Shanghai this week with the world's fastest times in the 400 and 800 this year and grabbed silver in her first race, the 400.
Pellegrini, France's Camille Muffat and the fastest Aussie and American all could pressure Adlington in the 400 next year. She's more dominant in the 800, her favorite event, with only American Kate Ziegler challenging her best time under the revamped suit rules. If Adlington can win the Olympic 800 again, she'll join Americans Evans (1988 and 1992) and Brooke Bennett (1996 and 2000) as the only women to repeat in one of the toughest events for prolonged excellence. Distance races tend to favor younger swimmers.
Adlington feels so confident that she's added the 200 free, which she won bronze in at the Commonwealth Games. Tack on the 4x200 free relay, and she'll have a shot at four medals in London.
But if you ask her, she'll say she's happy to be there.