SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s top female swimmer has changed her surname, built up her backside and recovered from an attack of stage-fright at the Athens Olympics.
Now the former Libby Lenton is primed for an assault on six events in Beijing.
Known as Libby Trickett since she married breaststroker Luke Trickett in 2007, the 23-year-old collected five gold medals at last year’s world championships in Melbourne but she is taking nothing for granted ahead of the Games in August.
“I don’t think anyone can be placed as the favorite because really that is what an Olympics is all about — people come out of the woodwork, people perform out of their (comfort zone),” Trickett said last week.
Her caution derives from painful experiences four years ago.
Trickett went to Athens as the favorite in the blue-riband sprint after breaking Inge de Bruijn’s world record for the 100 freestyle during the semi-finals at the Australian Olympic trials.
She was so overwhelmed by her achievement that she burst into tears and could not sleep. She was still in shock the next day when she lined up for the final, where she was beaten by Jodie Henry.
When Trickett arrived in Athens, her nerves again got the better of her.
She wept on her first visit to the Olympic pool then failed to make the final, watching from the stands as Henry won the gold after snatching her record in the semi-finals.
Despite her disappointment, Trickett did not leave Athens empty-handed. She won a gold by helping Australia to triumph in the 4x100 freestyle final and a bronze in the 50 freestyle.
“I’ve gone into Olympic Games as the favorite before and didn’t handle it so well then,” Trickett said.
“I’m in a different place in my swimming now, I don’t really tend to feel much pressure in terms of being the favorite.”
A year after her Athens meltdown she won her first individual world title in the 50 and has not looked back since.
In 2006, she won six gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, surpassing Henry as Australia’s premier female sprinter, and five at the short-course world championships in Shanghai.
She won another five golds at the 2007 long-course world titles in Melbourne, including three individual events, but believed she would probably have to go faster to win in Beijing.
Trickett, who was taught to swim in tropical north Queensland, underwent a series of strength tests that revealed she had a slight weakness in her gluteal muscles that was affecting her kick.
So she spent the rest of the year doing what nearly every other woman in Australia was desperately trying to avoid — building up her backside.
“We gave her a bum,” coach Steffan Widmer said at the time. “We improved the strength level and have applied that in kicking sets and she has improved in her kick strength and speed.”
Trickett’s new regime was an instant hit and she broke the 50 and 100 freestyle world records at the Olympic trials in March.
Breaking the 100 mark was particularly emotional for Trickett. The Queenslander had held the record twice but lost it quickly on each occasion, the last time to Germany’s Britta Steffen in 2006.
The Australian thought she had broken Steffen’s mark (53.30 seconds) and the magical 53-second barrier at last year’s Duel in the Pool against the United States when she was timed at 52.99.
However, the sport’s world governing body ruled the record would not count because she was racing in a mixed relay against Michael Phelps.
Trickett, who swam in her first race at the age of four, vowed to regain the record at the Olympic trials and did so emphatically when she stopped the clock at 52.88.
“I cannot say how much I wanted to do that,” Trickett said. “I’ve just wanted it so badly and to see it officially up there is just amazing.”
Two days later, she set a world record of 23.97 for the 50, slashing 0.12 off the mark set earlier in the week by Marlene Veldhuis of the Netherlands at the European championships.
Trickett set a world shortcourse record in the 100 meters butterfly last Saturday and is a member of the women’s relay squad that will contest three events in China after winning two golds in Melbourne.
So she is all set for glory, but she will have to do it without husband Luke. He failed to qualify in the 200 meters breaststroke at the trials, triggering tears from his wife.
Editing by Robert Woodward