Amber Keegan moves on from Paris Olympics bid to raise awareness in her biggest challenges yet

QUALIFYING for the Olympics was always going to be a long shot for Amber Keegan, so when her bid for Paris fell short in Doha she was determined it would not sink her summer.

The 27-year-old had been a long-time member of the City of Sheffield Swimming Club at Ponds Forge, representing her club at national championships, but it was a late switch to open water marathon swimming two years ago that took her closer to the Olympics than she’d ever been.

Needing to finish inside the top 16 at the world championships in Doha in March to make it into the Olympics, Keegan finished 28th.

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Instead of sulking about it, Keegan saw it as a positive: how close she had gotten after years of hard graft, and chose to focus that dedication on helping others.

MAKING A SPLASH: Amber Keegan, pictured in the World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup last year, is preparing for one of her toughest challenges yet. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty ImagesMAKING A SPLASH: Amber Keegan, pictured in the World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup last year, is preparing for one of her toughest challenges yet. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images
MAKING A SPLASH: Amber Keegan, pictured in the World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup last year, is preparing for one of her toughest challenges yet. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Instead of going to Paris this summer, she will swim two open water marathons for charity, one in the tropical climes of Hawaii, one on Wednesday in the English Channel.

She is doing the first for Surfers Against Sewage because as Keegan puts it, “I’ve spent so much time in the water I felt it was right to give back to a charity that makes sure other people can enjoy swimming in those waters.”

And quite frankly, it is a brute of a challenge. The 21 miles between England and France will take her roughly eight hours, four times longer than the Olympic open water marathon.

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“It’s going to be incredibly cold,” she says. “In 10k racing, if the water temperature is less than 18 degrees you’ve got to swim with a wetsuit on, but for this I can’t have a wetsuit on because it’s classed as assistance and won’t go down in the record books. The water temperature is going to be 15 degrees.

THAT WAS THEN: Amber Keegan prepares to race in the Women's 400m Freestyle heats during the British Swimming Glasgow Meeting in June 2021. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty ImagesTHAT WAS THEN: Amber Keegan prepares to race in the Women's 400m Freestyle heats during the British Swimming Glasgow Meeting in June 2021. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
THAT WAS THEN: Amber Keegan prepares to race in the Women's 400m Freestyle heats during the British Swimming Glasgow Meeting in June 2021. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

“I think four times more people have climbed Everest than have swum the Channel, which shows how hard it is.”

She will have a small team on a boat behind her who every 20 minutes will be giving her warm liquid. “Hot chocolate, warmed up Coca-Cola, lots of sugar and electrolytes,” says Keegan.

She hopes to make the attempt on Wednesday at 10am if the tides are favourable. If they are not, she could be starting as early as 2am.

So why has the Scunthorpe-born swimmer taken it on?

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“I had all that fitness after the world championships and thought what do I want to do?” she says. “I thought it would be really cool to put it towards something equally as incredible.

“The race in Hawaii is to raise awareness about global ocean health. It’s a different turn to my career but a pretty cool one.”

She will still go to the Olympics as a commentator on the swimming for Eurosport, but do these enormous challenges replace the buzz?

“You’re made to feel like the Olympics is the be all and end all and I was certainly given that impression by a lot of people, just not those closest to me,” she says.

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“They’ve always done a good job of keeping me grounded and after years of injuries and illness, every opportunity I got to race for Britain on a world stage felt like an amazing second chance and I’m proud of that and don’t take any of it for granted.

“I was sad to miss out on the Olympics, but in a sport as unpredictable as ours it doesn’t define you as a person.”

To support Amber Keegan swimming the Channel visit https://www.justgiving.com/page/amber-keegan-1718883331186

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