If you have ever watched the Olympics on the telly or been lucky enough to go to one in person, you will agree that they are one of the biggest and best sporting celebrations in the world. Being there as an athlete was so much better than I ever dreamt of. It starts months before hand when you get sent to the Birmingham NEC centre to get ‘kitted out’ with your Olympic track suit. That day alone was just amazing! There are so many different types of sports clothes there, from tiny female gymnastic leotards to the huge pole volt team bags!
I felt like the ultimate kid in a super sporty candy store! I left with 2 huge suitcases full of Team GB kit!
2 weeks before we were due in Beijing, we flew out to Japan for a two week holding camp. This training camp is to get you acclimatised to the humidity and change in culture. It was such fun, I was swimming so fast and there was this sense of anticipation within camp. From there we flew out into Beijing. We got there 3 days before the opening ceremony as swimming is the 1st event on the calendar. I will never forget the feeling of walking into the Olympic pool for the 1st time, now I’m a big girl, at 5’11 I never feel small that often but walking into the Olympic pool with 30 thousand seats I felt tiny! I had to tell myself it’s just a swimming pool- only water and lane ropes.
The 800m Freestyle was up first, it was on day 4 of the games and I had already seen Becky win her 1st Gold. I was in heat 4 of 4 and had seen the girls do some super fast swims in the heats before. I told myself that I am there to do my best and to ENJOY it! I was fortunate to have one of my biggest rivals in the lane next to me- she was an Aussy open water swimmer called Melissa. Being an Aussy she was always bragging how she was going to beat me and how Australia is better… bla.. bla..bla! little did she know that rather than phycing me out it was like fuel to my fire. ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS BEAT HER! When the gun went off I got the bit between my teeth and swam the swim of my life. When I touched the wall and looked at the score board I saw that I had come 2nd in my heat going 8.25.92 - beating some big names and most importantly Melissa!! I waved up to my family in the stands and looked back at the score board and I couldn’t believe my eyes I had come 8th and qualified for the final! Elated doesn’t cover it, to this day it is the most happy I have been in my professional life. To give you some perspective a year before I was ranked 99th in the world and going into the Olympics I was seeded 32nd. In the Final I came 8th and was privileged to be in the race where Becky broke the World record! ( yes that was me that told the queen to make her a DAME in the post race interview!)
Looking up at my family after making the 800m Final.
About 5 days later we travelled 1 hour outside of Beijing to the rowing lake, the venue of the Marathon swimming. I recall the Canoeist Tim Brabants stating to us that we must be mad the water was far to disgusting to swim in, unfortunately he was right, it wasn’t the cleanest water I had ever seen. Due to it being a Rowing lake the course was a 2.5km loop square and uneventful, there was even the lane markers in it.
The morning of the race went to plan, all my preparation was for this moment. I felt great, excited, apprehension and most of all ready to get in a show the world what I was capable of. We lined up, I was swimmer 2 of 25 so I was on the far end a perfect place for me. When the gun went off I dived in and I remember doing a full underwater butterfly kick break out. When I came up I was near the front. I worked hard on that 1st 2.5km to get to the front as I loved being at the front of races, so to set the speed of the race. I was next to Keri – Anne we were next to each other for the entire race. No it wasn’t planned, although we were team mates we never spoke of tactics or race plans together we were to individuals when we got in the water. I successfully fed twice during the 10km on the 2 and 3rd laps, which was a blessing as the water tasted DISGUSTING and it was pushing 35degrees that day.
The final lap the the most pain I had ever felt while racing, the pace was relentless it equated to swimming 67 seconds per 100 for all 100x100’s! As we approached the final 1000m , Keri-Anne Payne , Larissa Ilchenko the Russian 10 time world champion and I were all neck and neck gunning for the finish line.
It was with 25m to go one of the worst things in my life happened to me. The German Swimmer who was sitting in 4th pulled my leg back. That one action has undoubtedly changed the course of my life. I want to make this very clear – I am not saying I would have won, or beaten Keri Anne and came 2nd BUT I will never know What I could have done or what I was capable of. That one deceitful and cowardly action from a vile swimmer who has no sense of fair play and decency. When she was faced with tough opposition, she didn’t feel like she had the ability or the courage to dig deep and win herself a medal without foul play.
When I touched the finish instead of feeling pride, and joy I felt anger and bitterness, not at the fantastic swims of Keri- Anne or Larissa but at the fact I was cheated out of my moment to feel that elation you should feel at becoming an Olympic Medallist.
I am going to be completely honest with you readers I took me several years to look at my Medal and feel anything but sadness and even writing this account 12 years on I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
For me my solace is I have that Olympic medal, I had that moment on the podium I am an Olympic medallist and she hasn’t, didn’t and isn’t.
I don’t want to leave this article on a negative as it really isn’t all bad, I had the most fantastic time at the Olympics yes it was Marred and strangely the 800m heat was my favourite moment but time has healed. I am now proud of my achievements, my wonderful partner Martin has been so instrumental in making me feel that pride in my swimming achievements. Last year on the 16th August we welcomed our beautiful Daughter into the world. She is called Lily Olympia and as fate would have it was born on the 11th anniversary to the day of that 800m heat swim.
Next time I will finish my swimming story with you all.