Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington keeping London’s legacy alive as she opens purpose-built pool in Batley
Rebecca Adlington was one such Olympic heroine who did not stop when a pair of bronze medals were hung around her neck.
If anything it was she who was inspired to help generations to come.
“So many people thought I’d go into elite sport or coaching once I finished after London,” Adlington tells The Yorkshire Post, “but for me the ambition was working in grass roots.
“It’s what I remember most about my career and I know that sounds strange because people would think I’d remember the medals and everything else, but I equally remember learning to swim and that enjoyment factor of when I was a kid.
“I loved going to the pool and playing mermaids, getting the brick off the bottom of the pool and jumping in in my pyjamas. It was such a magical part of swimming.”
A decade on Adlington is still giving back.
Today at the Frontier Business Park in Batley she opens a purpose-built pool called simply ‘Swim’ which caters for families with children aged 0-11, with no current waiting lists, and lessons running every day of the week.
It is the seventh facility Adlington’s company Sporting House has opened in Britain and the second this year, after one in her home town of Mansfield.
“In our ‘learn to swim’ programmes we cover all kinds of aspects, we work with gyms, with partners, we work in communities, we work in schools,” she says.
“And then the facilities like the one we’ve opened in Batley which is just for kids.
“This is not your normal conventional leisure centre, it’s specifically built for kids and it’s absolutely amazing. Even from the entrance through to the changing rooms, to the viewing gallery, it’s all purpose-built and made to give children the best experience possible.”
Facilities like this are as important now as they ever were.
Swimming was among the hardest hit sports during the Covid pandemic. It was a long time before pools re-opened in the summer of 2020 and some never did.
Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England forecast that 40 per cent of swimming pools would be lost in the next decade.
“It’s still a concern,” cautions Adlington. “Over the next 10 years more and more will keep closing and loads have already closed since Covid.
“Whether it’s just through an inability to maintain the sites, or they haven’t got the funding, or it’s a resource issue, there’s been a number of different reasons, they’re isn’t just one big reason.
“So many pools are closing that it makes it even more amazing for us that we can actually open. While it’s not a leisure centre it’s an important facility to get kids in the water, to get them being active and learning a fundamental life skill.
“As you can imagine over the last couple of years the drowning rate has actually gone up and these are issues we need to have high up on the agenda.
“It’s not just about sport. Yes it’s great to give them that opportunity and when they leave the swim centre at age 11 they can join a club, but fundamentally it’s about learning that life skill, getting that water confidence and having fun.”
A recent survey found just under a million children were leaving primary school without being able to swim.
For a proud swimmer like Adlington, that is a frightening statistic.
“Unfortunately it goes hand in hand with a national shortage of swimming teachers across the UK,” she says.
“It’s such a difficult situation – we’ve got pools shutting, we’ve got the resource that’s not there so people can’t get swimming teachers even if there is space, and on top of that so many kids leaving primary school unable to swim.”
Trying to redress that balance is Adlington’s aim.
“We’ve got 30,000 kids a week on our programme,” says the double Olympic champion.
“No way would I have envisaged that back in 2012 and it’s an absolute pleasure to be giving kids this opportunity. But don’t get me wrong, when you look at the statistics of nearly a million kids leaving primary school unable to swim, then we’re only making a small dent, but at least we’re trying to do something about it, we’re trying to break down those barriers and give anyone, no matter where you’re from, no matter what your background, giving kids an opportunity to learn a life skill.
“It’s nice to be able to give kids a chance as well – because a lot are on waiting lists, people can’t get in, there’s always some sort of barrier, but with this it’s come down, have a free lesson, see if you like it, get in the programme, and meet the teachers who are all properly qualified.
“We’re also trying to offer careers, people that do want to come on board as a swimming teacher, we train them and pay for their qualifications and give them a lifestyle they want.
“It does come with its challenges but it’s definitely where I want to be. I took very seriously the ‘inspire a generation’ motto and legacy of the London Olympics.
“It’s something I’m massively passionate about.”
There are other elements to the Olympic legacy that Adlington enjoys, like this week when she went round schools in Batley promoting the new facility and talking about her successes in the pool, of which there were many.
Double Olympic champion in the 400m and 800m in the Beijing Olympics of 2008, bronze in both four years later; eight medals across two world championships and a Commonwealth Games in between.
“I loved my time in the sport, it feels so long ago though now. The tenth anniversary of London makes me feel very old,” laughs the 33-year-old.
“I never got anybody coming into my school when I was younger showing us an Olympic medal. It’s crazy I’m the person doing that.”
She had a great rivalry with Northallerton’s Joanne Jackson throughout her career, Jackson winning bronze behind Adlington in the 400m final in Beijing.
“I remember the 400 so, so clearly, even though I was only 19 and just a baby,” she says.
“Jo is my best friend even now. It’s amazing that we had that journey together. Not many people get to say they’ve won their Olympic medal with their best mate.
“People think you have all these mass rivalries but actually that’s not the case, I think genuinely me and Jo pushed each other to be better, we really supported each other and really wanted each other to be on that podium.”
What they began out in the Far East and developed in London has gone from strength to strength in a post-Adlington British swimming landscape.
Adam Peaty picked up the baton and kept the torch burning for Team GB but as Adlington puts it: “Adam is the stand out but there’s so much depth now and so many people doing incredible things like your Duncan Scotts, swimmers who are amazing athletes”.
Conversely given the issues at grass roots level, British Swimming had its best Olympics ever in Tokyo, winning eight medals. But looking to the future, Adlington sees a potentially nasty under-current ahead.
“I worry about the impact Covid has had on that generation of young teens that had to miss out,” she says.
“With that younger age group under 10, the impact on an elite perspective is something you can make up, but those teens will really have missed out because you couldn’t replicate swimming in lockdown.
“Yes you can go out for a run to keep fit but you can’t replicate the water. I saw all sorts of crazy inventions like people tying ropes around their waist, building pools in their garden.
“I think we’ll be fine in Paris (2024) but I think it will be when we get to LA (2028) and Bribane (2032) the next two Olympics where we’ll see the impact and hopefully British Swimming have given them enough support to get back on track.”
Beyond that there might be another wave who learned to swim in Rebecca Adlington-backed facility – her true legacy from London 2012.
To book your child’s free session, visit – https://www.swim.co.uk