By Ian Cole
Rebecca Adlington spoke with the authority of a double Olympic gold medallist when she sat down to lunch with SJA members today.
Just turned 20 and still every bit â€œthe girl next doorâ€, our Sportswoman of the Year for 2008 showed she had an opinion or two to share with us about the Olympics and sport in general.
Every leading sportsperson has to comment on drug testing these days and, when prompted by a questioner, British swimmingâ€™s golden girl was not afraid to voice her surprise that footballers were not to be subjected to the same rule which forces athletes in many sports to declare their future whereabouts for the benefit of drug testers.
FIFA and UEFA had decided the previous day to defy the World Anti-Doping Agency and reject the whereabouts system. Adlington declared it was a system of which she approved.
â€œItâ€™s not a problem to me. I donâ€™t mind being tested. Itâ€™s sometimes a bit of a nuisance on a Sunday to know where you will be, but every sportsman or woman â€“ even footballers â€“ should be prepared to accept that,â€ said the 400 and 800 metres freestyle gold medal-winner from Beijing.
Adlingtonâ€™s world has been turned upside down since her double success in Beijing and it wasnâ€™t something she anticipated. â€œIâ€™m not at all academic and I remember after my second gold speaking to my Mum on the phone and asking â€˜does this mean I donâ€™t have to go back to college?â€™ That was all that concerned me.â€
Now the gurus in the Olympic think tank are threatening her plans to defend her titles by suggesting the 800m freestyle could be dropped for London in 2012, in exchange for the gender parity of a 1,500m free.
â€œThat would be a disaster really,â€ she said. â€œAnd not just because itâ€™s my best event. Itâ€™s such a brilliant event. Iâ€™m still training every day for the 800 and just hoping.â€ But the realist inside her has kicked in and she revealed that she has considered dropping down to 200 as a partner to her usual 400.
â€œI enjoy doubling the 400 with the 800 and thereâ€™s no way I could do longer distances. Iâ€™m not an open water person and I can only do freestyle â€“ you wouldnâ€™t want to see my other strokes. They are shocking! So it would have to be the 200.â€
Adlingtonâ€™s first big swim since Beijing resulted in defeat over 400m to her great friend and rival Jo Jackson in the British championships at Sheffield last week â€“ both women going under the previous world record. â€œJo has always been a swimmer Iâ€™ve looked up to and itâ€™s brilliant for myself and the sport. It just shows that the team is getting stronger and stronger and people up and down the country are becoming more aware of what we are achieving.â€
Looking ahead, 2012 seems a long way off and a long time to stay at the top. â€œWho can predict what will happen? Everybody goes through hard times, you canâ€™t expect to win everything. You can suffer injury or illness. All I can do is my best,â€ Adlington said.
Sitting beside Adlington was Peter Keen (pictured left), performance director at UK Sport, one of the SJAâ€™s sponsors. Keen is used to being asked to predict London medals, their colour and their quantity. He is not fazed by the pressure to produce.
â€œLooking back at Beijing it was everything you dreamed of,” Keen said. “But it makes you think how good we can be at a home Games. Itâ€™s a fantastic challenge to do even better next time.
â€œMy role is to account for the huge investment involved. But all that money buys us a ticket to the race, not a result. We have to reach the point where the athletes are up to the performance goals we are setting. Arbitrary discussions about numbers of medals is not really helpful.â€
Keen revealed that he cried three times while watching the Beijing Games on TV. One was Adlingtonâ€™s world record 800m swim; another was seeing Paul Manning â€“ an athlete he has known for 15 years â€“ collect gold with the cycling pursuit team; and the third was watching Kath Graingerâ€™s quadrupule sculls crew finish second.
â€œPlucky Brits, they finished second. But they werenâ€™t there for second and their disappointment moved me immensely,â€ Keen said.
You could say there has never been a lunch like this one â€“ and not just because we had Britainâ€™s first double swimming gold medallist for 100 years in our midst.
It was different because we tried out a new venue, Ye Olde Cock Tavern in Fleet Street. And the food, perhaps out of respect for the training regime of our principal guest, was even more different.
No steak and kidney pud, no shepherdâ€™s pie, not even lasagne. Instead, we tucked into a healthy plate overflowing with rocket leaves and water cress, into which was hidden a sprinkling of diced beetroot, cherry tomatoes, peppers and pumpkin seeds. And laid across the top of this greenery were two skewers of succulent chicken. Strawberries and raspberries followed.
Kevin Macey supplied his customary cartoon for both Adington and Keen, and while she agreed both sketches were â€œbrilliantâ€ she also commented: â€œMy God, my bum looks massive!â€
Dates of other SJA events in the next few months include:
April 16: Andrew Hunt, the new chief executive of the British Olympic Association, meets the press. The lunch will be staged at The Olde Cock Tavern. Mary Fitzhenry is taking bookings: via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 020 8946 9601 or 07946 545084 (please indicate whether a vegetarian meal is required).
April 22: SJA annual meeting (12.30pm start), at UK Sport head office, 40 Bernard Street, London WC1N 1ST (nearest Tube: Russell Square). Only SJA members may attend – please contact Steven Downes, SJA Secretary, in advance to confirm your attendance.
All details are subject to change until confirmed by the SJA, both on this website and via emails to members.
â–¡ UK Sport is the longest standing lead sponsor of the Sports Journalists’ Association, with a partnership that goes back more than a decade. Sky Bet is the SJA’s newest partner, the sponsorship being announced in October 2008.
Both partners support 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 and the sports betting writer of the year at the SJA’s British Sports Journalism Awards.
The SJA Annual Sports Awards are the longest established of their kind in the United Kingdom, having been first staged in 1949.
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