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Page last updated at 19:20 GMT, Tuesday, 10 August 2010 20:20 UK

Why Lizzie Simmonds can go even faster

Lizzie Simmonds and Gemma Spofforth

Simmonds and Spofforth thrilled with backstroke one-two

By Karen Pickering
BBC Radio 5 live pundit and former world freestyle champion

This is Lizzie Simmonds's year.

Even before her gold medal in the 200m backstroke at the European Championships she had enjoyed a real breakthrough season.

She is only 19 years old, but she is very experienced and I feel this is going to be a special year for her.

In the final Lizzie absolutely went for it and Gemma Spofforth, who eventually took silver behind her, just couldn't catch up.

Gemma probably left too much in the tank at the end, which surprised me. I think Gemma may be kicking herself that, tactically, she had something left to give.

Lizzie has swum like that before, though. She goes out at the start of races and doesn't always hold on, whereas Gemma is a 100m specialist and is slightly nervous of going out too hard over a longer distance.

Gemma Spofforth and Lizzie Simmonds
Lizzie Simmonds, right, shares a joke with Gemma Spofforth on the podium

All of which means the two of them racing each other at national and international meets is only going to make them even better, and it'll be fascinating to watch.

They've got quite a few similarities, too. They are both bubbly characters even though their physical differences are the most obvious - Gemma is about 6ft 1in and Lizzie is only 5ft 8in.

Lizzie has a particularly intelligent, sarcastic sense of humour. You can see it in the comments she leaves on Facebook and I really like it.

Perhaps that's one reason why she's doing so well: she's enjoying her swimming.

Elizabeth Simmonds

Simmonds leads GB backstroke one-two

There have been times in the past when the head coach has had the view that if you are smiling, you aren't working hard enough. I don't agree with that and the girls in this team are proof that you've got to enjoy what you do, or else it's impossible to put in the effort or go through the pain that swimmers do.

It's also possible that - having been at Loughborough for a while, sharing a flat with freestyle star Fran Halsall - Lizzie's surroundings are having an effect on how well she swims.

Lizzie and Fran being around each other, being there during tough sessions, having a laugh and being able to switch off and enjoy themselves, is clearly working for the two of them.

Lizzie Simmonds looks ahead to London 2012

Not only that, she's getting experience and getting stronger, while she is still 19 and has a lot of growing to do.

A lot has been said about British swimmers coming into the Europeans without being fully prepared, saying they have not tapered or rested for this tournament with October's Commonwealth Games the priority.

What they mean by "taper" is the amount by which they cut down their training before big events.

The average swimmer does up to 70,000m in a week - a bit less for sprinters, a bit more for distance swimmers.

When you taper, you go from 10 sessions to something like five and you may simply get in the water, warm up gently, and do some light speed work or pacing. The day before a race, you might only swim 1000m all day.

So you go from working your backside off - and that includes things like pilates and yoga alongside swimming - to cutting it right down, and that means the energy you have gets you bouncing off the walls ahead of the race. Plus you can spend the time fine-tuning the little things.

However, one important aspect of the taper is psychological. There are things you always do before a big race and a good example is shaving down. When do you do it? Where do you start?

Swimmers all have that rhythm, a process to go through that gets them psychologically ready for the race, that tells them: today is the big day.


If you aren't preparing fully, like British swimmers here, then you will not be in the same zone. But Lizzie and Gemma overcame that on Tuesday.

The backstroke at the Commonwealth Games will be tough, there are some good Australians and these two will not have it all their own way. That said, I think they can both go quicker, and I'd back Lizzie to stay even quicker than Gemma.

I hope they can dominate these events for some time. It comes down to how long they can stay motivated, and when the point arrives at which they believe they have done all they can do, and no longer desperately want to achieve anything.

As long as they are motivated, though, they can keep going at the top of this sport for a good few years yet.

Karen Pickering was talking to BBC Sport's Ollie Williams.

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see also
Simmonds leads Britain to one-two
10 Aug 10 |  Swimming
GB swimmers play down Euro hopes
07 Aug 10 |  Swimming
Adlington & Tancock set for Delhi
20 Apr 10 |  Swimming
Swimming calendar
17 Oct 00 |  Swimming
Swimming & Diving on the BBC
29 Jun 11 |  Swimming

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