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04th Nov 2015

Women In Sport: We Caught Up With Four-Time Olympic Medallist Rebecca Adlington

An inspiration and a role model.


An inspiration and a role model. 

It’s not every day you get to interview a two-time Olympic gold medallist, so when we were given the chance to chat to Rebecca Adlington, we jumped at it.

The talented swimmer won two gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing, to become Britain’s first Olympic swimmer to win two gold medals since 1908, and later received an OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain celebrates her win in the 800-meter freestyle on Saturday, August 16, 2008, in the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China. (Photo by Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
Celebrating her win in the 800-meter freestyle in 2008. 

Now retired and mother to her new baby Summer, we caught up with Rebecca to hear all about the highs and lows of both competitive swimming and motherhood.

Looking back on a glittering career, she began by explaining to us how it all started.

“I saw it as a hobby at first. I was doing the thing that I loved. I worked really, really hard and wanted to do well and achieve in.

“I went around it in an opposite way: most people go to the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships and kind of build up to the Olympics, but I went in straight to the Olympics which is why a lot of people saw me as a nobody who all of a sudden became ‘somebody’.”

MANSFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 26: Double Olympic swimming gold medal winner Rebecca Adlington waves to the crowds as she tours her hometown of Mansfield on an open top bus and gets a heroines welcome on August 26, 2008 in Mansfield, England. Adlington who won two Olympic golds in the 400m and 800m freestyle in Beijing was also presented with a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes by mayor Tony Eggington (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Rebecca gets a massive welcome home in August 2008

“It was a bit weird for me as I said, as I came straight on the scene. Most people build up their name, but I did it the wrong way around.

“Throughout it all, what drove me on was the fact that I’ve such a passion for the sport, a love for it.

“The biggest challenge I faced was probably the after Beijing really. I went from being nobody to somebody, and I was a 19-year-old girl who was thrust in front of the world, so that was difficult.

“That was the start of a four-year cycle to the home Games, [London 2012, where she won two bronze medals].”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: Silver medallist Mireia Belmonte Garcia (R) of Spain, gold medallist Katie Ledecky of the United States, and bronze medallist Rebecca Adlington (left) of Great Britain pose with their medals after the Women's 800m Freestyle on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Pictured at London 2012.

“The period from 2008 to 2009 was definitely the most challenging – I look back and I think ‘Wow how did I do that?’” she laughed.

“In the end though, it’s about working hard and doing something that you love and that’s the way it’s been for me since I was a young girl.

“There was athlete me and then there was also normal Becky. Things were a bit different then, but now we are lucky as there are so many fantastic female role models.”

Picture taken with a star filter shows bronze medalist Britain's Rebecca Adlington posing with her medal after she competed in the women's 800m freestyle final during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 3, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GettyImages)

The hard work paid off.

“Now, it’s not a case that you have to be a tomboy just because you do sport,” she reflected, adding that she is currently the UK ambassador for Lil-Lets ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign which helps to educate young girls and help them to chat openly about periods, body changes, boys and all things that being a teenager involves.

“It’s been fantastic working on that campaign. When I was 14, we didn’t really talk about these issues. It’s been so nice to talk to teenage girls and tell them what I went through and help them out.”

She retired from elite swimming in 2013 and went on to kick-start a new initiative, SwimStars, which aims to have every child in Britain able to swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 5: Rebecca Adlington answers questions from the media during a press conference as she announces her retirement from swimming, at InterContinental London Westminster Hotel on February 5, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

She retired in 2013.

“Retirement wasn’t something that just happened. I didn’t wake up one morning and I say ‘I’m done’. I always knew it was going to be my last Olympics [London]. I knew Rio wasn’t a possibility for me.

“It was the home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – that was the one that pulled at my heart, the one I wondered should I carry on until then.

“Normally we take a two three week break in the summer, and I had started SwimStars after the London Games.

“Despite the break though, suddenly, I didn’t want to get back in the pool. That spoke a lot for me.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain reacts after finishing third in the Women's 800m Freestyle Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Pictured during London 2012.

“I always thought I’d never find something I’d love as much as swimming, and that had always been the fear about retiring.

“But then I found this [SwimStars], it’s something I love just as much so I like to think of it as just moving departments.”

Indeed 2015 has been a big year for her as she welcomed baby Summer with husband Harry Needs and she revealed that motherhood can be just as challenging as competitive sport, but that the rewards are worth every second.

“We joke now that we are as tired now as we were when we were training. Motherhood is completely life-changing, the Olympics was life-changing and having a child is life-changing.”

Double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington holds a press conference in central London on February 5, 2013, where she announced her retirement from competitive swimming. The 23-year-old Briton who won two gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008 but could only muster two bronze medals at London 2012, said now was the right time to quit as she could no longer keep pace with a younger generation of swimmers. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

“You have a little human being and you just want to take care of them and love them and give them everything you can.

“It has been tough, the lack of sleep of course and we’re always finding new challenges, but just like sport, you go through them and rise to them.

“For me, motherhood is definitely more rewarding. Seeing her face every single day and having so much love for her is simply amazing,” she finished.

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