Rio 2016: Family pride at stake for maturing Aimee Willmott

Middlesbrough's Aimee Willmott
Middlesbrough's Aimee Willmott
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MIDDLESBROUGH swimmer Aimee Willmott has already beaten her dad’s Olympic achievements.

Stuart Willmott finished 15th at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with his daughter going two places better at London 2012.

For Aimee, all that remains is to leapfrog her old man’s 400m individual medley personal best.

The Rio 2016 Olympics would be just the time to do it – by recording a time that would likely put Willmott top of the world.

Aimee, 23, is one of four Yorkshire swimmers competing at the Games in South America, alongside City of Sheffield Swimming Club pair Ellie Faulkner and Max Litchfield and City of Leeds teenager Georgia Coates.

Faulkner and Coates are both competing in the 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay and will have to wait until Monday to begin their quest for glory in the former, with the relay event beginning two days later.

But both Litchfield and Willmott are straight into action on the first day following last night’s opening ceremony, with Willmott determined to savour a more prolonged experience than at London 2012.

However the Middlesbrough swimmer fares in today’s 400m individual medley, the 200m butterfly which begins next Monday will provide a second opportunity to shine but there is no doubt that Willmott has unfinished business in the former.

An 11th placed-finish in London was enough to better her dad’s 400m IM efforts of 1984 but ultimately not the top-eight berth required to reach a final.

It meant Willmott’s Olympics debut as a 19-year-old had been and gone within one morning and, second time around, the swimmer is determined to make Saturday night’s final.

And another incentive is to better her former Olympian dad’s personal best – a long shot given the time required – but a standard that would likely make the Boro star a world champion on her second crack at the Games.

“Obviously growing up I knew what dad had achieved,” Willmott told The Yorkshire Post.

“The fact that he had made an Olympic Games meant it was then realistic for someone else like me as a budding swimmer. To have had my parent already having competed in one, it didn’t seem so unrealistic.

“When I had qualified I think I had done it done as much for me as I did for my dad. That was really nice to do.

“The running joke has always been ‘I have done better at this competition then you did’ and when I raced in London it was ‘you were 13th and I was 11th’ so I am always just that little bit ahead of him.

“But his PB is still faster than mine and I believe it’s around about 4:29 – it might be near the women’s world record so if I ever get near that then I will be beating him there and probably being the best in the world!”

In order to achieve that objective, Willmott will need to go six places better than her seventh-placed finish at last year’s World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

For Willmott, that effort marked her first final at world level, one year on from a fine 2014 which featured two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games plus a silver and a bronze in the Europeans that same summer.

Having already savoured the taste of one elite final, Willmott is now champing at the bit to experience another. “There’s a lot more opportunity for me this time,” continued Willmott.

“Obviously with the 400 IM you don’t have a semi-final so a lot of people in the other events will be saying ‘I made the semi final at the Olympic Games.’ I can’t really say that because only the top eight in the distance events progress.

“In London I would have loved to have had another swim on an evening and the worlds was the first time that I have had a final on such a big stage and last year was a bit of a shock. I wasn’t expecting it to be so exciting and so much adrenalin and pressure.

“I think I am ready for it this year and that’s what I want – top eight and pushing for medals.

“On the first day in London I just remember being so excited with the adrenalin rush and everything. I still want to get those feelings again and I am sure that I will.

“Standing up there in front of a crowd representing my home country is something that I enjoy doing, no matter whether it’s a small competition or at the Olympic Games. If I can improve on London then that definitely means I’m moving forwards.”

Willmott has also made another move in recent times – relocating to London to follow her former Middlesbrough coach Lisa Bates. But rest assured any gold post box would be on its way to Yorkshire, and definitely not the capital.

“It has to go in Middlesbrough!” laughed the swimmer. “I always say I’m from Middlesbrough as the support I have had from back home has always been amazing.

“People say there’s not a lot of opportunity in Middlesbrough but you end up having a few athletes from Middlesbrough that normally make the Olympics team – people like Chris Tomlinson, Richard Kilty, myself, Jade Jones. It’s quite nice to have that sporting family from home and that everyone supports the Boro.”