GEMMA Spofforth confessed she would have immediately retired had she not booked her Olympic selection in dramatic fashion last night.
But she left it very, very late to earn her Team GB place.
Portsmouth Northsea’s former world champion and current world record holder was a distant fifth at the halfway point of the women’s 100m backstroke final at the British Swimming Championships.
Needing a top two place to book her Olympic ticket for this summer, Spofforth produced a storming comeback, igniting the burners and overhauling her rivals in devastating fashion.
The former Portsmouth High School pupil’s winning time of 1min 00.19sec was more than two seconds slower than her personal best, swum in a now outlawed non-textile suit, and was just two hundredths quicker than rising star Georgia Davies.
But it was good enough to ensure Spofforth will return to the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London for this summer’s Games.
Meanwhile, another of Portsmouth’s former world champions, Katy Sexton, finished eighth in the race, nearly two-and-a-half seconds off Spofforth’s pace.
It could have been so different for the victor, though.
‘If I hadn’t have qualified that would have been it for me, that would have been the last race of my career,’ said Spofforth.
‘I doubted a lot of times whether I could do it but I’m now just really excited about being back here for the Olympics. It didn’t really feel real until now.
‘I wanted to give it everything because I knew there would never be another chance.
‘It always comes down to the last 10 meters and I just dug as deep as I could.’
Injury and personal problems have plagued the 24-year old Spofforth.
And 2011 was a difficult year following the loss of her father’s partner to illness, failure at the World Championships and a freak cycling accident that saw her break her nose and big toe.
‘It has been a year shrouded in doubt for me and there were a lot of times I didn’t think I could do it.
‘Over Christmas I was really wondering if I was going to get strong enough to make it,’ she added.
‘I’ve had five years of ups and downs and I have had to have a lot of strength to get through that adversity.
‘Coming fourth in Beijing (in 2008) is still there in my mind and I was so close but I came back in 2009 and won the world title and I want to do that again.’
Spofforth will now refocus her sights on the 200m backstroke in which she is the British record holder.
· Kellogg’s has been supporting British Swimming for more than 15 years on a ‘grass-roots to gold medals’ programme of swimming.