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Rebecca Adlington announces retirement at 23

6th February 2013

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Rebecca Adlington - the best female British swimmer in history - yesterday announced her retirement from competitive swimming at the age of 23.

The swimmer represented Team GB at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics had already ruled herself out of the Rio Olympics in 2016 feeling she would be too old to be compete, but has now announced her retirement from competitive swimming completely.

At a news conference yesterday morning she said: "I hate the word retire. I love swimming but as a competitive element and elite athlete I won't compete anymore.”

She will now not be defending her title at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Adlington became Britain's first female to win Olympic gold in the pool in 48 years, with 400m and 800m freestyle victories at the 2008 Beijing Games. Her world record time of 8:14.10 for the 800m freestyle still stands, and she won two bronze medals at the same events at London 2012.

In addition to this Adlington has also won several medals at other international and domestic events since the Olympic trials in 2004. During her career she has won two gold medals, two silver, and two bronze at the World Championships, two gold and two bronze at Commonwealth Games, one gold, one silver, one bronze at European Championships and has dominated the British Championships in her events for many years, winning 13 gold medals, three silvers and two bronze.

The Mansfield-born swimmer says she wants to leave the sport at the top. "I have achieved everything I wanted to," she said. "Some people want to milk it all they can. I've always said I wanted to finish on a high, despite my love of the sport."

British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Lord Coe paid tribute to the achievements of the former Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion.

"Becky Adlington's unforgettable success in Beijing inspired a generation to get in the pool and swim," he said.

"Her down-to-earth personality and remarkable career achievements have made her a national treasure."

BOA chief Executive Andy Hunt added: "Through her remarkable talent and tireless work ethic, Becky Adlington has set a standard of excellence that future generations of Team GB athletes will aspire to reach."

Adlington had already said in September that she would not compete at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

In October, she undertook a 280-mile bike ride in Zambia with Olympic bronze medallist Jo Jackson, former Commonwealth champion Ross Davenport and ex-swimmer Mel Marshall to raise £50,000 for Sport in Action, a non-governmental organisation that looks to inspire change in impoverished communities through sport.

She says that her work outside the pool has taken on a greater significance, and that she no longer has the same motivation to compete at elite level.

"I had to look at things, take a break and see how I felt when I came back. It didn't feel the same getting back into training and it felt like time," she said.

"I hate the words 'retired' so I don't want to say it because I would never retire from swimming all together, but as an elite athlete I won’t be competing any more and I won't be at the World Championships this year."

On her blog Adlington wrote: 

“I think now is the right time to call time on my competitive career. I've worked hard for so long and had the massive honour of representing my country at all the major meets. I've got to experience a lot of competitions and different challenges since Beijing. Now having been to a home Games as well, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

"As a female distance swimmer, I believe, unfortunately, I have passed my best. I could carry on, but I don't think I could realistically get back to my very best.

"Swimming has become a very 'young' sport for females. The girl who won the Olympic Gold in the 800m in London, Katie Ledecky, was 15. My body simply can't do what it used to be able to do when I was in my teens. It seems right to focus on my other passions and set myself new challenges. I would love to stay involved in the sport at both an elite level and grass roots level as swimming is what I know and love.”

In retirement, Adlington will head up the "Rebecca Adlington Swim Stars" programme to encourage youngsters to take up swimming.

She told the press conference: "I want to launch my own learn to swim programme and I've always said that if I've inspired one kid to get in the pool then it would make my year and hopefully I can continue to do that."

One her blog she wrote: “I have been involved in Learn To Swim through my sponsors Speedo and British Gas over the years. It's now natural for me to take my own steps into Learn To Swim. My vision and goal is that every child in the UK should leave primary school being able to swim 25 metres.”

She commented that it would be her “biggest ever challenge in swimming.”

At the press conference Adlington paid tribute to her family and her coach Bill Furniss, who became British Swimming's head coach on Monday. She added: "I couldn't have done it without my family. Even my sisters, they helped me with my homework. Bill is the biggest thing … he has helped me as an athlete as much as a person."

In December, Adlington criticised British Swimming's review into the team's under-performance at the London Games, telling the Times she felt "insulted, disheartened and saddened by the way they have ignored us, the swimmers."

She believes that the appointment of her former coach Bill Furniss as the new head coach at British Swimming will improve the relationship between athletes and the governing body, and hopes to work with Furniss mentoring future elite swimmers.

"He knows enough about the sport and has been on so many teams that he's seen it all first-hand, so if there was anyone suitable for the role it is him," she said.

"Hopefully I'll still have a relationship with him where I can pass on my perspective as a swimmer.

"I'd love to stay involved in all sorts of ways. Hopefully I can help the younger guys coming up because I have been through it all."

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