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Interview with world champion swimmer Gemma Spofforth

PUBLISHED: 01:24 12 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:02 20 February 2013

Interview with world champion swimmer Gemma Spofforth

Interview with world champion swimmer Gemma Spofforth

Gemma Spofforth, who grew up in Slindon, is the world record holder for the 100m backstroke and is aiming to represent Britain in the Olympics. She and her father Mark took some time out to talk to Simon Irwin

It's not very often that you get to meet someone who is undoubtedly the best in the world at what they do. One who definitely fits the bill is Gemma Spofforth, 24, world record holder in the 100m backstroke.

Gemma set the world record (58.12 seconds) when she became world champion in Rome in 2009. She has spoken before of how she felt later that perhaps 2009 was her finest year.

Since then she struggled to hit the same form and was beset by illness when she attempted to defend her world title in Shanghai last week.

After that she considered retirement but decided to throw herself back into her sport and aim for the 2012 games in London.

After Shanghai I said to myself, you can either quit now or you can make the choice to do it and have fun with it. When I made the choice it created that momentum to go forward and I went forward faster and more physically fit than Ive ever been before.

Then I got back into running and got back into cycling and then I fell off my bike. but thats by the by!

Despite being the world record holder and former world champion, Gemma believes that she can be viewed as the underdog.

I think because of how the past two years have gone for me, I can actually go back to being a person that is an underdog as I havent performed in the last two years.

So for me this year is just enjoy it. Have fun with it and do it like its something you want to do because up until last year I didnt really want to do it.

Just enjoying it and having fun with it is my main goal and that will create whatever happens later Olympics-wise or medal-wise.

Her father Mark, a partner in Spofforths, the Sussex-based firm of chartered accountants, said that although Gemma became a world-beater it wasnt always that way after she had learnt how to swim in the family pool in Slindon. At first she used to swim in Littlehampton, then Bognor before moving to training in Portsmouth where she also went to school.

She was never the best in the club. She always came second and just enjoyed training and swimming.

It was only when she went to the European juniors, aged 13 or 14, that she thought, I can do this. She won a gold medal, stood on the podium and had the National Anthem played and all of a sudden you could kind of see that she suddenly had the confidence that she could do more than just competing.

Mark and Gemmas mother Lesley, who died in 2007, used to share the early starts when she was training. Lesley was an accomplished swimmer herself, having swum for Durham and Cambridge Universities.

Mark said: We were up at 4.30, leaving at 5 to get there for 5.30 to 5.45 starting at 6 and that was fine. In the summer its beautiful, its nice to be up and it gave me plenty of time to do other things.

We had quite a good routine, Id take her in and then come back and either go to the gym or go to work and then Lesley would go in with breakfast in the car and our son Peter (now 21) and pick Gemma up.

They would have breakfast and she would drop them off at school and they would be off. That worked quite well, we shared it all to make sure it wasnt too much on one person. Peter is a good rugby player and we were always chasing around for him as well.

All the hard work paid off when Gemma won a scholarship to the University of Miami. She became captain of the swimming team, came fourth in the 100m backstroke at the Beijng Olympics missing out on a medal by just 0.04 seconds. The next year she went on to win her world championship medal and set the world record.

Gemma believes that the American attitude helped her enormously with her career.

The people at poolside are so happy all the time and if theyre not then they somehow spin it to be happy and create this want to win, this need to win.

Her father agrees: Over there the whole atmosphere is electric. Everybody screams and shouts and as they walk out, even though they cant hear individual shouts, they can just feel it and it gives them a real buzz.

Now Gemma feels as though she has two homes, her life in Florida and her family in Sussex. During her six years in America she has caught the accent but says that starts to disappear when she is here.

I do train out in Florida and I have been out there for six years so I have got two homes now. My English accent comes back when I talk to English people but I have still got an American twang.

My whole childhood has been in Sussex and growing up where I did in Slindon my whole life has been around the outdoors and enjoying life in the summer.

This March Gemma is planning on taking part in the London 2012 trials for the 100m and 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle in the new Olympic pool.

If all goes well and she goes to the Games then she will consider whether to keep swimming afterwards. Longer term, she is planning to go into counselling in the USA.

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