Historic Adlington’s strong claims for honours

IAN COLE profiles another of the leading contenders for the 60th annual SJA Sports Awards
Rebecca Adlington featured in one of the sporting Quotes of the Year, without actually uttering a word.

Minutes after winning the second of her gold medals in the Beijing pool she stood, still dripping, before the BBC television camera on the poolside, Sharron Davies thrusting the microphone in her direction. Adlington’s room mate, Cassie Patten, who had finished eighth in the 800 metres freestyle final, looked into the camera lens, seized the microphone and uttered those never-to-be-forgotten words: “Queen, if you are watching: two gold medals…Dame Rebecca Adlington.” It was about 3.30 on a Saturday morning in Windsor, as I recall.

A damehood for one as young as the teenaged Adlington?

To those of us who didn’t know much about Becky Adlington, her modesty in her double triumph has become an endearing quality. “Hang on,” said the lass from Mansfield later, “I’m only 19.”

But the precedent of royal honour had been set four years earlier, after Kelly Holmes was made a Dame after winning two golds in Athens at the end of her career, aged 35.

Yet here was history. Adlington’s triumph in the 400m freestyle earlier in that week in Beijing was the first British Olympic swimming gold since Adrian Moorhouse in 1988. She was the first woman to win Olympic gold in the pool for Britain since Anita Lonsbrough in Rome in 1960. And she was the first British swimmer to win two Olympic golds since Henry Taylor in 1908.

And they sure know how to celebrate in Rebecca’s home town of Mansfield, Notts. Open top bus parade, the Sherwood Swimming Baths renamed after the golden girl, and Yates’s wine bar converted overnight to the Adlington Arms. She drew the line at having a statue in the town square: “With these shoulders?”

Yet it was those shoulders that had powered Adlington to such impressive victories. It is a double performance to mull over when casting your vote. Adlington’s dominating 400m freestyle success was a surprise and the 800 – though more predictable – also broke the 19-year-old world record of American Janet Evans, swimming’s longest-standing mark. Behind Adlington in Beijing, the silver medallist was six seconds away.

Were Adlington to win the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year Award on November 26, the Queen might get Cassie Patten’s message, since her daughter, the Princess Royal, will be the the guest of honour at the event.

Go on, test the water…Adlington, Cooke, Pendleton, Ohuruogu?

To read Ian Cole’s previous profiles of award contenders, click here

Voting for the 2008 SJA Sports Awards ends in less than one week. If you are an SJA member and want to cast your vote for the 2008 Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year, click here and complete the easy-to-follow form.

*UK Sport is the longest standing lead sponsor of the Sports Journalists’ Association, with a partnership that goes back more than a decade, in which the agency supports the SJA’s two prestigious annual awards events, including the presentation of a special UK Sport Award for excellence at the SJA’s Annual Sports Awards.

The SJA Annual Sports Awards are the longest established of their kind in the United Kingdom, having been first staged in 1949. The 60th SJA Sports Awards will be staged on November 26 in London.

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