14 October 2019

Swimming: Who to watch in Rome

July 25, 2009

Karen Pickering picks her top five women’s races to watch at the 13th FINA World Championships – Rome 2009 exclusively for Sportsister. The post Olympic year always throws up some unexpected results as it is when we tend to see a number of the sport’s top stars not quite back to full fitness after an extended break or choosing to take time out of the pool completely.

The likes of multi-Olympic Champions Natalie Coughlin (USA) and Australia’s Liesel Jones are two such names that will be missing from the World Championships in Rome which means it is the perfect opportunity for the next generation of swimmers to make their mark.

The good news for Great Britain is that our medallists from the Watercube in Beijing, Rebecca Adlington & Joanne Jackson, will be in action and are swimming better than ever. We have also seen a number of other British girls shoot up the World Rankings this year so we have some very exciting races to look forward to.


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Here are my top five picks of the girls who will be going for gold in Rome.

400m freestyle

I think this will be the race of the World Championships and Great Britain has two swimmers capable of taking the title. Double Olympic Champion Rebecca Adlington (pictured above right and below left) favours the 800m distance but will certainly feature along with Olympic bronze medallist Joanne Jackson (pictured below centre).

The two girls swam a fantastic race at the trials in March and both were inside the world record with Jo sneaking the victory. Hoping to spoil the British party is local girl Federica Pellegrini who took back her world record after just three months and has a point to prove in Rome. The Italian was the clear favourite to win Olympic gold but misjudged her pace and could only manage 5th place. Only 4/10 of a second separates the three girls in a race that lasts four minutes and with both Jo and Becky known for their strength over the last 100m expect a very exciting finish.

400m Individual Medley

19 year old Hannah Miley (pictured above right) is the new European Record holder for this tough event and currently heads the world rankings. She is coached by her dad, Patrick, at Garioch Swimming Club and the partnership is working with Hannah setting a number of personal best times this year.

She is renowned for her work ethic in training and gutsy performances in competition; we are used to seeing her ploughing up and down the pool with a bright red face during her races. Taking the title in Rome will not be easy though as World Record holder and Olympic Champion Stephanie Rice will be competing as well as the multi talented Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe.

100m Backstroke

Gemma Spofforth (pictured below left) was devastated a year ago to miss an Olympic medal after finishing 4th in Beijing and is determined to put that right this year. She had to miss a year in 2005 with pancreatitis but battled back and now holds the Commonwealth & European records for the 100m.

With the reigning Olympic Champion, Natalie Coughlin, not competing the door is open for Gemma but World Record holder Kirsty Coventry will be looking to add to her numerous titles and expect a battle also with Russia’s Anastasia Zueva who Gemma pipped by just 2/100 of a second in Beijing. Gemma, who studies and trains at the University of Florida, may also feature in the 200m backstroke as she has made big improvements in the longer event this year.

200m Butterfly

Ellen Gandy (pictured above centre) was the baby of the Great Britain swim team in Beijing but was not well leading up to the Games which affected her performances in China. The 17 year old has come back with a vengeance and heads the world rankings this year on the 200m butterfly after smashing the European Record in March.

Originally from Bromley, Ellen’s family emigrated to Australia two years ago and she now makes the most of the tremendous facilities in Melbourne. She will know one of her rivals very well, Australian Jessica Schipper, and China’s Olympic Champion Liu Zige will also be in the mix.

50m freestyle

It will be very tough for Fran Halsall (pictured above right) to pick up a medal in the shortest race on the programme but she has been steadily improving and broke the seven year old British record in March. With the top 18 swimmers on this year’s world rankings separated by just a second the race is going to be a splash and dash.

The 19 year old Liverpudlian is currently ranked 6th. Seven of the eight Olympic finalists will be competing in Rome including the winner Britta Steffan (GER), world record holder Marleen Veldhuis (NED) and the incredible American Dara Torres who has won medals at each of the five Olympic Games she has competed in, including three silvers last year at the age of 41.

Karen Pickering MBE, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Photo credits: Rebecca Adlington – Speedo. Jo Jackson – Schweppes. Others – BOA.

About Karen Pickering MBE

A key figure in the swimming world, Karen was an international swimmer for more than 20 years during which time she won an incredible 73 titles and was four times World Champion.  Since retiring from professional swimming, Karen has set up her own swim schools: Karen Pickering SWIM, launched a new concept in baby swimming: The Baby Swim Foundation, developed a broadcast career commentating for the BBC, holds the position of Chair of the British Athlete’s Commission, sits on the Board for both the British Olympic Association and the English Institute of Sport and is a member of the Sports Advisory Group for LOCOG.  Karen will be in Rome reporting on the World Championships for BBC Radio 5 Live.

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