Where to start with a year that contained so much….
My first major event of the year was the Olympic Trials. Without any doubt, the most emotionally draining domestic event I’ve ever experienced. Everywhere I looked I saw athletes crying, either because they had missed out on the GB Olympic Team, or through sheer elation and relief at making it.
On a personal note, it was great to win all three of my races (200m, 400m and 800m), all in personal best times. This was a huge confidence boost for the major events that were to come later in the season…
A week later, I was off to the World Short Course Championships in Manchester, the UK’s first major world swimming event since the London Olympics in 1948. It was great to compete at home and the support from the British public was superb. The entire squad had an outstanding meet, with the British team winning a total of 24 medals. I won Gold in the 800m Freestyle, narrowly missing the World Record by 0.25 seconds – I was over the moon as one of my goals was to improve my Short Course swimming. I was also part of the 4x200Free squad which won a Silver medal. Bring on Beijing!
Going to an Olympics is the highlight of all athletes’ careers, and my first experience of the Games was no exception. I enjoyed it as much as was possible prior to competing, but obviously my top priority was to remain fully focused on my races. There was so much to take in, and I’d love to go back to China to explore without the pressure one day! Two moments really stand out from my Beijing experience. The first was sharing the podium experience in the 400m with my great friend and team mate, Jo Jackson – a surreal, but hugely enjoyable, experience. Secondly, having my parents in the crowd for the 800m Freestyle was a moment I’ll treasure forever. It meant everything to me to have Mum and Dad and my coach there, they’ve all contributed so much to my career over the years and I was delighted to repay their confidence in me.
After I came home from Beijing it was a whirlwind! There are almost too many highlights to name, from appearing on The Charlotte Church show to watching Strictly Come Dancing. BBC Sports Personality of the Year was a dream come true and The Royal Variety Performance was brilliant! However post-Beijing, there are two moments which stand out more than the rest for me. These are moving in with my boyfriend Andy and finding out I had been awarded an OBE.
As much as I loved living at home with my parents, the time had come to move away to Nottingham to be closer to my training venues. So when I got back from Beijing, we looked into renting an apartment in Nottingham and Andy and I moved in together in October. Living with a fellow athlete (Andy’s on the same team as me) made my first move away from home easier than it otherwise might have been and I still see plenty of my family which is important to me.
Finally, at the end of December I received notification that I was to be awarded an OBE by the Queen in the New Years Honours List. I was so chuffed! Following my two gold medals in Beijing – being honoured by Queen and country was the perfect end to a perfect year. Bring on 2009!