Olympic champion inspires the next generation

Becky with May McKnight
Becky with May McKnight
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IT’S barely six months since she announced her retirement.

But Olympic gold medallist Becky Adlington is far from hanging up her swimming costume for good, and is now set to make a splash with her new learn-to-swim clubs, which were officially launched in Sheffield yesterday.

Rebecca Adlington showing off two gold medals

Rebecca Adlington showing off two gold medals

The 24-year-old was back in the city where she has competed so many times to coach a children’s swimming class, and reveal plans for ‘Becky Adlington’s Swim Stars’ – the scheme she hopes will eventually get every child in the country able to swim 25m by the time they leave primary school.

“I hope to make a difference”, she said. “It’s not going to 
happen just from this, but it’s a start.

“A lot of people I speak to say they never learned to swim as children, as their parents never took them.

“As an adult, if you’re scared of swimming, you never seem to get over that.

“It really is a case of the younger, the better. It’s about giving children water confidence, and as soon as they’re confident in water, you can really see a change in them.”

Initially, Swim Stars classes will be held in Sheffield, Glasgow and London, all at swimming pools within Hilton hotels.

The hope is to then expand the scheme around the country.

“Hopefully there’ll be another six to eight sites by the new year”, Adlington said.

“We’re taking it slowly, as we’re training the teachers up and we want to get it right.

“I’ll be doing a bit of teaching myself and also going around the sites to get things up and running.

“I should, at some point, cross paths with most of the kids who are taking part.”

With two gold and two bronze Olympic medals to her name Adlington is currently Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian – a record she shares with rower Katherine Grainger.

After winning two golds in Beijing in 2008, in the 400m and 800m, she then took bronze medals in the London Olympics last year in the same events.

But her path to the record books started in the not-so-glamorous environment of a hotel swimming pool, while on holiday with her family.

“I was on holiday, I would have been about two-and-a-half, and my two older sisters were in the pool,” she said.

“My mum was blowing up my armbands, when I ran off and just jumped in.

“My mum shouted ‘she can’t swim’ and then up I popped, splashing around.

“I didn’t understand, didn’t comprehend that I couldn’t do it – I just saw my sisters doing it, and thought I could do it too.

“It was then that they decided to put me into swimming lessons. My mum and dad wanted me to learn, probably so they knew I was safe while they could lie by the pool and read a book.”

But it wasn’t until she was in her teens that Adlington’s talent really stood out, she said. “I was never that good at club level. I mean, I was good, but I didn’t win every race. It wasn’t until I was about 13 or 14 that I got a lot better.”

Adlington was just 19 when she won her medals in Beijing, and 
23 when she added the two bronzes to her collection in London.

She announced her retirement in February, days before her 24th birthday.

“The idea for Swim Stars came to me a long time ago,” she said.

“It’s something that shocks me, that 1.1 million kids leave primary school not able to swim. I really hope I can do something about it now.”

Adlington has teamed up with fellow retired swimmer and Olympic medallist Steve Parry to launch Swim Stars.

He said: “Swimming is still 
high on the agenda, but there doesn’t seem to be the same number of pools that there used to be. When Becky said let’s do something together and get kids learning to swim, it was a no brainer.”

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