My Olympics career is over, says Adlington – and she may decide to quit swimming altogether
20:32 GMT, 22 September 2012
Rebecca Adlington, the golden girl of British swimming, has revealed that she will not race at the next Olympic Games in Rio in four years' time – and may even have swum in her last event.
Adlington, who shot to fame at 19 when she won two gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008, admits that, just four years later, she has been overtaken by much younger swimmers.
'Rio is out of reach,' she said last night. 'I'll be 27 then, and swimming, especially for distance swimmers, is a young person's game. Do I want to carry on and not get any faster The answer is No.
Cheers to tears: Adlington is distraught on the podium in London
where she could do no better than a bronze after hoping to replicate her golden glee from Beijing
'I know what it's like to stand on a medals podium. Everyone's different, of course. Some swimmers are happy to carry on even if they have little chance of winning. But I don't want to swim unless it's at a very high standard.
'If I was a sprinter, then I'd go to Rio. But I don't have an ounce of sprinting in me, and that's why my Olympics are over.'
Last month, Adlington was in tears as she stood on the podium to receive a bronze medal after the 800metres freestyle final at London 2012.
Golden moment: Adlington won gold in the women's 800m freestyle final in Beijing
She had smashed the world record for the event when she took the gold in Beijing, but in London's Aquatics Centre she found herself trailing home in third place behind 15-yearold American Katie Ledecky, and in a slower time than she had achieved in the British trials.
Adlington feared then that the game was up, but while she hinted that she may not compete at Rio in 2016, she wanted time to make a rational decision on her future.
Now she has reached that decision and it could mean she will not even swim at either next summer's world championships in Barcelona or the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
'Swimming is still in my heart but, physically, I'm ready to finish completely,' she said.
'If I were to race in Glasgow – and that's an if – then it would be in the 200m and 400m, but definitely not the 800m,' she said.
'I'm done with that distance. I have a holiday coming up and then a charity bike ride in Africa and there are many other things I plan to do, so maybe I'll decide after that to call it a day completely. I'd like to be in Rio, though, even if I'm just a fan.
Looking to the future: Adlington
'Hopefully, I can be a bit more than that, like a mentor, or have some kind of official or unofficial role with the British swimming team. I'd love the chance to be able to give back and share my own Olympic experiences with the Rio team.'
As Britain's most successful swimmer of all time, with two Olympic gold and now two bronze medals to her name, Adlington believes she should be contributing to the review examining British swimming's disappointing performance at London 2012.
The team's haul of one silver – Michael Jamieson in the 200m breaststroke – and Adlington's two bronze medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle was well short of an official target of five to seven medals.
But Adlington believes British swimming's perceived failure at London does not tell the whole story.
'I think it's been exaggerated,' she said. 'We won three medals in the pool in Beijing, too, although they were two golds and a bronze. London was still better than Sydney or Athens, and we had a record number of finalists.
'I think the reason I swam slower in the Olympic final than at any point during the year is because our first trials last March were too early. Most of the British swimmers swam their fastest times before the Games, too.
'We have a 15-week cycle, which is why we all swam so well in our June trials. But it was too long to hang on to that form for London.
'The first trials would have been better held in April. I've trained and raced well all season, but swam slower when it mattered. I wasn't upset with the bronze in the 800m. It was the time that bothered me.'
Adlington leaves for a week's holiday today before embarking on a 10-day charity trip to Zambia in a fortnight in which she will cycle 280 miles in four days.
'Mel Marshall [a former teammate] asked me last January if I wanted to come, and I jumped at the chance to do something completely out of my comfort zone and face a new challenge,' she said.
'I haven't ridden a bike since I started swimming properly at 12, so I fell off a few times to begin with, and with camping in the wild it's going to be tough. But it's something I've always wanted to do, especially as we're raising funds for Sport in Action so they can build a treatment centre in Zambia.'
On her return she has a number of swimming days with schools, and has hopes of skiing holidays and even a trip to Australia to catch up with friends.
'I'm excited and scared about the future,' she added.
'Swimming is all I've ever known since I was a child. It's all I've ever wanted to do, but I've also missed doing things normal 23-year-olds do.
'After the next few weeks of travelling and other commitments, I'll have a better idea of whether I want any more 5am starts, and the hard, hard training that's required. I may not. I may be finished completely. 'All I know is that three Olympics is one too many for me.'
To donate to Rebecca Adlington's charity bike ride, go to justgiving.com/zambiacycle