‘If I don’t get a medal, it won’t be the end of the world’

Gemma Spofforth shows off her gold medal after the Women's 100m backstroke final at the Swimming European Championships in Budapest in August, 2010

Gemma Spofforth shows off her gold medal after the Women's 100m backstroke final at the Swimming European Championships in Budapest in August, 2010

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Champion swimmer Gemma Spofforth is making one new year resolution tonight - to qualify for the London Olympics. Chris Owen finds out more

The screensaver that appears is a picture of one of the cruellest sporting moments in her life.

England's Gemma Spofforth competes in a Women's 100m Backstroke heat during the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, in 2010

England's Gemma Spofforth competes in a Women's 100m Backstroke heat during the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, in 2010

For as the screen flickers into life, up comes a picture of the Olympic scoreboard in Beijing.

It is a constant reminder of the tiny margins between triumph and failure. It tells her that she finished 0.04 seconds off a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke.

The world champion swimmer and former Portsmouth High School pupil, who honed her talent swimming with the Portsmouth Northsea club, will be making just one new year’s resolution tonight: to qualify for the London Olympics.

‘That’s as far as it goes,’ she says.

‘The Olympic trials in London in March are all I’m thinking of.

‘If I qualify, then I’ll start thinking about medals.’

The 23-year-old, who was born in West Sussex, spent much of her early life in Portsmouth but is now based in Florida, admits the Olympics could be her last.

‘Everything I do at the moment is geared up to the Olympic Games in London.’

But the pressure she puts herself under with the constant training is, she says, nothing compared to what she deals with when she works in a crisis centre in America as a suicide prevention worker.

She is looking at becoming a counsellor in some shape when her swimming career ends, but her immediate goal is a medal in London next year.

She is hoping to compete in the 100m and 200m backstroke and may be the relay as well.

‘The Olympics are always in the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it too much as I don’t want to put myself under too much pressure.’

That image of that Beijing scoreboard spurs her on. ‘It’s going to be very different this time round.

‘There will be the home crowd and a completely different atmosphere, having everyone cheering us on.’

Gemma comfortably qualified for the 100m at July’s World Championships in Shanghai, but what happened before, during and after her trip to China left her soul-searching.

Having lost her mother Lesley to bowel cancer in 2007, she saw her father Mark’s new partner, Jane, succumb to lung cancer while she was at the British Championships in Manchester.

She was then forced to be away from her Florida base while she awaited her green card, and then, in China sickness saw her crash out of the heats of the 100m.

And to round it all off, when she returned to Florida she broke her nose and toe and needed 15 stitches following a cycling accident.

’When I came back to Florida after the worlds, I was very disappointed and I still had a huge decision to make to swim or call it a day,’ says Gemma.

‘But I’m now the fittest I’ve been for a while and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve found love for it again. This year is about enjoying it, getting in and racing and doing what I love.’

Gemma swam a world record time of 58.12sec in the World Championships in 2009, won three silvers in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a gold at the European Championships in 2010 and a gold at the British Championships this year.

But she is philosophical about the chance of winning an Olympic medal.

‘My target is to try to get one, but I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket. If I don’t get one it’s not the end of the world.

‘I’ll be counselling when I stop swimming. I’ve been doing it for more than a year now after I passed a pretty intense six-week course.

‘I’m more proud of that than my world record.’

She adds: ‘It was a big challenge and I was so proud of myself.

‘It’s emotionally tiring and can get quite stressful, but is so rewarding.’

Gemma believes the London Olympics could be her last.

She explains: ‘I’ve got two different lives going on and my swimming career is coming to an end.’

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