GEMMA Spofforth regained her British 100m backstroke title last night and revealed how a family tragedy spurred her to victory in Manchester.
The former Portsmouth High School pupil lost her mother to cancer in 2007 and believes the resulting pain and anger she suffered as a result was the psychological driving force behind her success.
Last night the current world and European champion pipped British rival Lizzie Simmonds – a European silver medallist – by just 0.64 seconds at the Manchester Aquatics Centre.
The Battle of Britain, as it was dubbed, was one of the most eagerly-anticipated encounters of the week-long championships, and it was Spofforth who reigned supreme – touching home by half a body length.
Her victory in a time of 1min 52secs all but guarantees her a place at the World Championships in Shanghai this summer.
But Spofforth used an entirely different motivational tool to power herself to victory in Manchester.
‘I don’t really remember what I was thinking in the race,’ said Spofforth.
‘You just need to be really strong mentally and I get that from my brother and my dad.
‘I focus on what we have been through (as a family) and that’s what gets me through the race.
‘There’s definitely extra pressure being world-record holder and the nerves didn’t really kick in until about 10 minutes before the race.
‘I definitely knew Lizzie would come back so I knew I had to take it out fast.
‘I know I can still go faster but it was a case of going out there and doing my best.’
The pair will meet again in the 200m backstroke, which gets under way on Thursday.
And with Simmonds the reigning European champion over the longer distance, Spofforth knows she will be the underdog in that event.
Another qualifying spot will be up for grabs in the last major international swimming meet before the London 2012 Olympics.
But 2008 News Sports Awards sportswoman of the year Spofforth is just focused on finishing her duel with Simmonds.
She added: ‘I would love to go to Shanghai and do as well as I can there but, for the moment, I just need to look forward to the 200m.’
Meanwhile, it’s eight years since Katy Sexton won 200m butterfly gold at the World Championships, but the former Northsea ace rolled back the years to secure a place in the final.
The 29-year-old might struggle to match her previous performances but was pleased to touch home in 1.02.79 to claim sixth place – more than two seconds behind Spofforth.
‘I had two aims for the week and that was to qualify for two finals – I’m halfway there,’ said Sexton.
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