Freya Colbert leads a new wave of British female swimmers aiming for Olympic gold

British female swimmers outperform men at World Championships in Doha – Getty Images/Alex Pantling

When Great Britain delivered their best Olympic swimming performance three years ago, the men won seven of the eight medals and also won the world with a record-breaking medley relay.

So it was a big change at the World Championships in Doha in January when the women edged the men to within seven British medals, including individual world gold for Freya Colbert and Laura Stephens who the first was from Rebecca Adlington back in 2011. .

Adlington became the last British woman to win an individual Olympic title some 16 years ago and there is growing excitement that the men’s golden generation – led by Adam Peaty, Tom Dean, Duncan Scott, Ben Proud and Matt Richards – together. at the top of the class of female talent.

It was a trend that head coach Bill Furniss recognized after last year’s World Championships after Lauren Cox’s 50m back bronze and, crucially, final performances by Colbert, Freya Anderson, Katie Shanahan and Stephens inspired, as well as fourth place finishes in both. the freestyle relays.

The improvement was confirmed in Doha, with the then 19-year-old Colbert embodying a new generation with his 400m individual medley gold, secured in the final 10 meters of a dramatic race. She also won the silver 4x200m relay with her training partner Abbie Wood, Lucy Hope and Medi Harris.

“Everybody always dreams of going to the Olympics… but I didn’t necessarily think I’d be in this position,” Colbert says. “It shows how quickly it can change. In the lockout, like so many people, I did not compete. I wasn’t training. I struggled. A lot of the sport for me is the social side.

“I hadn’t made a senior team [at the time of the Tokyo Games] and he was probably a little vague about the size of the performances. I wasn’t one to stay up and watch the finals.

“I would watch the races back on my phone but it was definitely very exciting. We are only a small country compared to America. The legacy is there. The gauntlet has been laid down and we’re going to be looking to beat that in Paris.”

Freya Colbert after winning the Women's 200m Freestyle at the British Swimming Championships in LondonFreya Colbert after winning the Women's 200m Freestyle at the British Swimming Championships in London

Colbert added another medal to his collection in the 200m freestyle at the British Swimming Championships – PA/Zac Goodwin

Colbert has already won the women’s 200m freestyle at the British Championships this week at the London Aquatics Center and will be hoping to add another title in her favored 400m medley.

“When I first came into Loughborough a year and a half ago, Dave [Hemmings, the Team GB coach] We sat down and said this was the first time he had such a strong group on the women’s side,” she says. “We’ve done a bit of work on bonding and we’ve used each other in training to get the best out of each other.

“That’s a small thing that I didn’t really appreciate, and maybe growing up in swimming it’s not really appreciated. I think it’s been overlooked, not on purpose, but the boys’ side has been stronger in recent years. We are really pushing and driving forward. It was nice to even the scales a bit [in Doha].

“I also have to thank everyone who did so well in Tokyo for the amount of funding we have received. Sport is expensive, it’s very rarely a full-time job, it’s very rare that people who perform at the highest level can support themselves, and it wouldn’t be possible without the National Lottery. My father would play every week to support the swimmers, to support the sportsmen, to invest in our future.”

Freya Colbert after winning the Women's 200m Freestyle at the British Swimming Championships in LondonFreya Colbert after winning the Women's 200m Freestyle at the British Swimming Championships in London

Colbert is studying bioengineering at Loughborough University – Getty Images/Morgan Harlow

Colbert’s full-time swimming programme, which includes around 70km spread over 10 two-hour sessions per week combined with daily strength training, is currently combined at Loughborough with bioengineering studies. “I’ll go crazy with nothing else to focus on outside,” she says. “I had exams in January and more in early June. It’s stressful sometimes to have that stack of work in the background but it’s always nice to have something to do.

“I think one of the things I’ve learned is from being so close to Abbie [Wood] and Max [Litchfield] really just cooled off a bit.

“The environment also helps. You have Olympic champions walking around the pool [Peaty and Anna Hopkin also train at Loughborough]. Everyday I feel the same straight from the World Championships. I definitely took a lot of confidence but there wasn’t much competition. I have my eye on an Olympic medal but I’m not delusional – I’m very realistic and logical and critical.”

The parallel normality of university life provided a welcome perspective. “I love it when I go to university and I’m just with everyone else and completely normal, going to the library with my friends,” she says.

“They know I swim but obviously most of them don’t know how big it is. I don’t give it up. When I went back to uni [after becoming world champion], he was, ‘Oh my god’ but, after five minutes, I was like, ‘Let’s move on. You must catch up to me for what I have lost’. When I’m not a swimmer, I want to be an average person – that’s what I want.”

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