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Times man scoops rare interview with Olympic star

PUBLISHED: 17:05 06 May 2009 | UPDATED: 11:50 12 August 2010

Olympic gold swimming champion Rebecca Adlington has slammed plans to axe the 800m freestyle for London 2012 - the title she hopes

Olympic gold swimming champion Rebecca Adlington has slammed plans to axe the 800m freestyle for London 2012 - the title she hopes to defend on home soil.

At just 19-years-old she took an historic gold in the women's 400m freestyle in Beijing last August to become Britain's first female Olympic swimming champion since Anita Lonsbrough in 1960.

She followed up with a record breaking 800m freestyle to join Dame Kelly Holmes as one of two women to win two gold medals at one Games.

But in an exclusive interview with the Times the swimming sensation that captured the hearts of millions around the world told of her 'deep concern' that she may not have the opportunity to defend her crown.

Speaking during a rare interview at Bluewater shopping centre, she said: "It is extremely concerning for me to hear the IOC/FINA are considering removing the 800 metres Freestyle and that I may not have the opportunity to defend my title.

"Having won gold in this event it is closer to my heart than perhaps most events and to think I may not be able to compete in this event again is a deep concern.

"I understand the organisers want to make the events the same for both sexes and have men and woman competing in the same events. That is fine but don't take an event out. Why not put one in? They should add to the swimming programme not take away events. I would be devastated if they opted to get rid of this event."

She added: "I hope British Swimming will lobby to keep the event in the programme as this will not only support my preparations for 2012 but every other British sportswoman who gets the chance to compete in this sports race. I want to defend my title in front of a passionate British crowd."

Miss Adlington and Team GB swimmer Liam Tancock, 23, who reached the 100m backstroke, 200m Individual Medley and the Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final at Beijing 2008 appeared at the new-look Speedo store on Saturday.

The duo, ambassadors for Speedo, met fans at the store and signed autographs while posing for pictures with their ecstatic fans.

Jane Roffey and her daughters Francesca, 11, and Emily, 8, from Bexley, were among the first to meet the stars.

Keen swimmer Francesca said: "I watched the Olympics and loved every minute of it. To meet Rebecca and Liam is a dream come true.

"I am very excited about London 2012."

Miss Adlington added: "It's great to be able to come and meet some of our fans today and see the buzz the overall success of Team GB in Beijing has created and that London 2012 is also generating. It is not only giving swimming a boost but loads more sports that are not often in the headlines.

"To compete in Beijing was phenomenal. You are in this bubble with elite athletes and although you know there is a lot of interest in the UK you remain so focused as you know this is it, I remember thinking and saying to myself 'this is the biggest thing I am ever going to do in my life' and I just went for it.

"It is a strange feeling being out there. You are all there because you are elite in the sport so there is a lot of respect. The whole place is just packed with elite, world class sportsmen and women and that is a pretty amazing feeling to know you are amongst those. I felt honoured to represent the country, against the world's best. The most bizarre thing I saw in Beijing was Michael Phelps walking around with eight golds hanging round his neck, just phenomenal.

"You don't know too much about what is going on back home but I was getting messages from the family and they were constantly speaking to press on the doorstep. That was the first time I realised the UK was going crazy for what the whole of Team GB were achieving. I have never felt so patriotic in my life, out there representing my country. When I got of the plane in England I remember seeing Gordon Brown and I was in shock but I couldn't understand why he was there. Then I saw the impact the Olympics had on the country for myself and I was blown away.

"But to do it all again in my own country would be out of this world, beyond all expectations. London 2012 promises to be such a spectacular event. It will also be great to have a whole crowd cheering. In Beijing it was quite intimidating. There were maybe two or three people cheering you on, mainly family so the fan support is non-existent which makes what the medallists achieved even more remarkable. It was packed with Chinese and American supporters in Beijing but imagine what the crowds will be like for London 2012. It will be the biggest thing this country has ever seen and I desperately want to be a part of that."

Her dreams of competing for Team GB in London 2012 were also echoed by team mate Liam Tancock.

He said: "Beijing was fantastic. To represent your country, that is what we all aspire to do and to have the chance to do this in our own country, in front of our own fans will be unbelievable. It was just great to be part of Beijing and the reception we received when we returned home was like a heroes welcome. The fans, the media, everyone was just going crazy.

"We want to keep that momentum going, keep swimming in the spotlight. With the Olympics happening every four years it is obviously a massive event but we need to push the sport in the periods between that to keep the sport in the public eye.

"It is a great sport for kids and the health benefits are vital. Beijing was my first Olympics so it has a special place in my heart but to do it all again in London that is my dream."

Both stars are now in training for a variety of events leading up to London 2012, including the tough Commonwealth and World Championships.

Miss Adlington added: "After Beijing I stopped training for five weeks, it took me three months to get back to the standard I had achieved in the Olympics.

"I will never take that long a break again. It sounds weird but if you take too long out you start to lose the feel for the water. Swimming is a resistance sport so it is important to keep training regularly.

"There is a lot going on in the build up to London 2012 but that is my ultimate goal. To get gold in this country, in front of a home crowd is the ultimate aim, the ultimate high."

*Speedo scooped two accolades at the prestigious Sports Industry Awards last Thursday. They were named Sport Brand of the Year and The Technological Innovation in Sport Award.

Fans meeting the stars on Saturday also had the chance to win a signed Speedo LZR Racer suit, worth £320.

michael.adkins@archant.co.uk

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