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Adlington On The Twist In The Tweet

May 31, 2012  - Craig Lord

In the past week, Rebecca Adlington has sent out more than 50 tweets, visible to the 48,935 who follow her and the whole world in the transparent myosphere of mini messages that dance along a spectrum of human nature, from the stuff that makes you smile for myriad reasons to the stuff that makes you weep for the woe to be found therein.

Adlington - who says she pays little attention to what rivals are doing but clearly follows results around the world and media reports too if her twitter messages are anything to go on - is well aware of the downside of having the world in the call room with you it.

"I used to read all the stuff about me but I'm one of those people who scroll down to the bottom and read the comments thing. I learned very quickly not to do that," she said at a small gathering of media of late. "It is awful and I get angry. Even if there are 10 nice comments you get one idiot. I've now given up. It upsets me or gets me angry."

The difficulty in the world of twitter and other social networks rests in the shadow of what she says next: "I'm not an athlete who wants to do everything they can to raise their profile. It's not about that - it's about me swimming. It's not about making lots of money. I want to let my swimming do the talking more than anything else."

No question that Adlington is genuine, her words reflected in her attitude, her devotion post-double-gold-status in Beijing, her rejection of all the easy money and offers that would have come her way in late 2008 had she said "That's it, I quit". She did not just have another four years in the sport left in her. Rather she had the drive for four more years of serious devotion to getting the best out of herself at the pointy end of elite world-class sport.

Not just about swimming for anyone, though, of course. The world of twitter is where you can read what swimmers are cooking in their kitchens, what's happening to their partners, parents, plane rides, the mundane side of life, hoovering and cleaning, the downtime, the up times, the photo shoots, the glad rags, handbags and Mulberry purses and what they think about the price of pears and much beyond, some of it straying into places that the IOC frowns upon when the world is watching.

Alongside all of that you can also read the words of very young swimmers using profanities to describe the great unwashed's take on swimming, you may cringe as you notice them - and their schoolfriends not in the limelight - using four-letter words and realise that we are all a few weeks away from a moment when, should they repeat such things when flying their national flag, the same media writing lovely stuff today about charity bikes rides and wedding days to come are likely to lay down the quill in favour of the flame-thrower.

Sharron Davies (Olympic silver medallist over 400m medley in 1980 when the GDR's doping factory was in full flow building the speed of Petra Schneider and other victims of a policy of abuse and when the US decided to abuse its own athletes by failing to send them east to a Games at which Tracy Caulkins would surely have among those who would have prospered) raised the twitter issue this week when she urged the British Olympic Association to ban the use of social media networks for the duration of the Game sin London. 

Davies, a BBC TV deckside interviewer, echoed some good points that have been made far and wide in the wake of mistakes that have been costly for the likes of Stephanie Rice and others. In the absence of an official ban (it is unlikely that we will see one imposed in a world of Olympic sports that loves to embrace the notion of "the more we have the better it gets" regardless of evidence to the contrary) self-control is the key.

Gemma Spofforth, with world and European crowns to her credit on backstroke, urges caution and a "think before you tweet" policy, while teammate Adlington notes: "I love the block button on twitter. I don't know how people expect to send a nasty message and not get blocked. I won't be checking it or going on it a lot during the Games. The messages of support are amazing but you do have the chance of someone saying something that is going to be annoying. You don't want that added stress. You don't want to be thinking about that. I think I will just tweet once it is over.

"Most things that I read about myself are not swimming related. They are how to do with how I look which has nothing to do with my performance in the pool. I've never read something that has really criticised me in the pool over the past year. It's just nasty comments about things I can't control."

A crass British comedian (if that latter term be correct - I watched 15mins of the chap and decided that a minute more world be a waste of life) referred to Adlington in derogatory terms sometime back in the wake of an Olympic success story in 2008 stacked on years and years of hard work and daily dedication from her and the support network of coach Bill Furniss, family and a legion of swimming professionals, including the part played by teammates.

"I can't help the way I look or who I am. People are not always going to like me but that has nothing to do with my swimming. That really gets me going," says Adlington. So, best avoid looking, engaging, especially at a time of singular focus.

This weekend in Barcelona as the Mare Nostrum Tour gets underway and the majority of those competing will be racing at various stages of preparation for London 2012, Adlington will take on the likes of Spain's Mireia Belmonte and Erika Villaecija over 400m and 800m freestyle.

She, in common with most, will not be at her best but the racer will out. Had she always been competitive? Seems so: "It's always been there. I am very, very driven and work hard. I'm not someone who shies away from work or misses sessions. If you put that much effort into something you are going to fight for it.

"I'm competitive at anything - even outside the pool. Puzzles. You name it. Take driving. I'm even competitive there. I like to beat my sat-nav. You put in your destination and it says you will get there at 2.44pm. And I think 'No I will get there at 2.43pm.' It's just to get there before it. 

"As soon as I dive in the water I want to succeed, I want to do well. Even if the time is good and I'm fourth I'm happy knowing that I am improving."

Between challenges the pool she likes challenges that exercise her mind. "I love puzzles. We had a jigsaw at the training camp with a GBR bum on it - Ross Davenport's bum. Well he was wearing trunks with a GBR logo on the back." Thank goodness for that.

Adlington will have a puzzle or two with her as she arrives in the Olympic village in east London on July 24, four years on from arriving in Beijing among title hopes over 800m and and outside medal chance over 400m. Since claiming gold in both battles, she had endured the fallout of shiny suits in Rome, climbed back on her dolphin and claimed the European 400m crown, Commonwealth 400m and 800m titles and the world 800m crown at the helm of several other podium places, and this year finds herself ranked world top 3 in both distance freestyle events so far this season.

Asked to pinpoint valuable lessons along the way, she said: "I have definitely learned more from my disappointments over the last four years than I have from my good times. I think every swimmer has to go through that. if you can't learn from them and move on well then you will just keep doing downhill. That is part of being in sport. I remember the Europeans (800m free, 2010, well off the pace). I came out crying when I finished seventh or something. I learned so much from that experience. That makes you so much stronger, so much more determined."

Failure did not cause the tears. "I was crying because I disappointed myself," she says. "I knew what I was capable of. I realised how much it meant to me. If I wasn't upset then I would think why am i doing this. Am I in it for the right reason. If I had won everything since Beijing it would be boring. The whole thing that makes sport interesting is that not everyone wins all the time. 

"Everyone likes it when Michael Phelps gets beat. It's because he has won so much it's good to see he is human or that other swimmers are catching him up. He has his bad days as well." And eats them up as fuel for next time, just as Adlington has done, a poor 800m swim in Budapest in 2010 followed by victory in the 400m final.

Since British trials in March, Adlington has been working on her weakness. "It's always my turns I need to keep working on. They are always my weakest point. The rest of it is down to having some consistent work. I'm slow on the turns because I use them as recovery. You do so many you don't realise how much of an impact it makes. I'm a bit lazy at turning. I think rest, rest, rest at the end of a length."

That showed up in her epic battle for the 800m title with Denmarks' Lotte Friis in Shanghai last summer but the racer in the Olympic champion overrode the loss: on the swim phase she made up for a tiny loss at each turn - and on the last lap, a touch not a turn in sight, the world got to see why she is a winner, every sinew and strength channelled into the point of the exercise: victory.