LONDON, England, February 5. REBECCA Adlington officially announced her retirement from competitive swimming today, but will remain in the sport to help develop the next generation of British swimmers.
The 23-year-old leaves the sport as the most-decorated British swimmer in history, having won four Olympic medals and breaking a hallowed world record that helped usher in a new wave of international distance swimming.
“I hate the word retire,” Adlington said today in a press conference. “I love swimming, but as a competitive element and elite athlete I won't compete anymore.”
Adlington said she'll focus her energy on an initiative called the Becky Adlington Swim Stars, a program designed to get every child in the pool and swimming 25 meters before they leave primary school. Adlington called it her “biggest challenge and greatest legacy,” and the announcement was backed by several of Great Britain's notable administrators.
“She is without doubt a world superstar in aquatics,” said David Sparkes, the CEO of British Swimming. “We hope to continue to work closely with Rebecca now encouraging every young child to swim, get more people swimming and mentoring young athletes to follow in her footsteps.”
Adlington broke into the swimming scene in a big way at the 2008 Olympics, overtaking Katie Hoff in the final strokes to win the 400 freestyle, the first gold medal by a female British swimmer in 48 years. Six days later, she erased Janet Evans' 19-year-old world record in the 800 freestyle with an 8:14.10, a record that still exists.
“It means everything to me,” Adlington said in 2008. “I never knew it was going to be like this. I just got in there and did my best. It's absolutely amazing. I've worked so hard and it's paid off. I knew I could have swum faster, but to get the world record, it certainly paid off.”
Footage of 800 free final in Beijing Olympics:
Adington remained a consistent presence in the distance freestyle events through the techsuit era and beyond, standing on the podium in the 400 and 800 frees at the 2009 and 2011 world championships. She was crowned world champion in the 800 at the 2011 meet after an epic battle with Kate Ziegler and had extremely high expectations put on her at the 2012 Olympics, where she would be defending her two Olympic titles in front of a home crowd.
She managed to take two bronze medals in the freestyle events in London, and cried tears of joy as the crowd chanted her name during the medal presentation ceremonies.
“I am proud to get a bronze, there is nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said after the 800 free. “Hopefully the public will be proud of me getting that bronze.”
Adlington had speculated shortly after the Olympics that she might be ending her swimming career, but fell short of making it official, saying that it would be nice to compete in Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
It appears that the promotion of longtime coach Bill Furniss to the national team head coach position this week also had a hand in Adlington's announcement today.
“Now I've not got Bill without me, I feel a little bit lost,” she said today. “The medals — they are not just mine — they are my family's, Bill's. I think he is going to do such a brilliant job [as GB head coach].”
Even Sebastian Coe, the famed Olympic champion runner and leader of the effort to get the 2012 Olympics to London, attended the press conference and spoke glowingly about Adlington's contribution to the sport.
“Becky Adlington's unforgettable success in Beijing inspired a generation to get in the pool and swim,” he said. “Her down-to-earth personality and remarkable career achievements have made her a national treasure.”