The agony and ecstasy of Olympic destiny and dejection was on full view at the British trials when the 800m freestyle witnessed a changing of the guard.
Rebecca Adlington, 19, had shattered the oldest British record on the books in heats, with an 8mins 19.22sec effort that eclipsed the 8:24.77 of Olympic silver and bronze medal winner Sarah Hardcastle from 1986 and elevated the Nottingham-based distance ace to fourth-fastest in history. The final was touch slower, at 8:20.29.
'That felt really painful. I struggled to repeat the heats time but it’s been a great week for me and the European and world records are there for me to aim for in Beijing and I know I can do those times,' said Adlington, after racing just a touch outside world-record pace to the half-way mark before fading off the pace on her way to rubber-stamping her place in Beijing.
In her wake, the second berth for Beijing went to Cassandra Patten, of Stockport Metro, who broke free from Rebecca Cooke, a Commonwealth champion in the twilight of her career, and then past Joanne Jackson at the 600m mark with a turn of speed that looked as though she was just starting the race. Little wonder: 800m is a sprint for a woman who came within a fingernail of winning the world title a year ago in the 10km open water marathon that will make its Olympic debut in Beijing. Patten, home in 8:29.83 over 16 laps yesterday, will race at trials for the 10km event at Seville in May.
Jackson finished third in 8:38.05, with Cooke, who has set the distance pace for the best part of a decade, out of contention in fourth on 8:41.19. Fighting back tears, Cooke, a 24-year-old who started winning trophies when she was ten and since racing at her first Olympic Games at Sydney 2000 has won three Commonwealth titles and medals at World and European championships, said: 'I gave it everything I had. There was nothing more I could have done. I wish them all the very best. Adlington and Patten were among those visibly moved by Cooke's plight, the champion saying: 'I have so much respect for Becky. She is the hardest working swimmer I've know, she's set an example and she's so talented and so lovely. We'll miss her.'
Four years ago, Adlington, weeks after her 15th birthday, clocked 8:40.80 at Olympic trials, beyond the grade for the Greek Games. But she was invited by the then performance director Bill Sweetenham to attend the Olympic holding camp for experience and to provide a pacing partner for Cooke, sixth in the Athens final just 2.5sec away from a medal.
Times move on. And the world has its eye on the 8:16.22 world record that has stood to Janet Evans (USA) since 1989. The American's coach, Bud McAllister, was here today, working with British Swimming. He will doubtless have a few tips for her and coach Bill Furniss, at Nova Centurion, though the Nottingham partnership is fully aware of the giant task ahead. 'We know it’ll be harder at the Olympics,” said the British champion. 'The work goes on and Bill will be pushing me harder. The harder it is, the more satisfying it is at the end.'
Others to qualify today were Elizabeth Simmonds, of Lincoln, and Gemma Spofforth, based in Florida, in the 200m backstroke in 2mins 08.99 and 2:09.70 respectively.
In the 4x100m freestyle, the combined times of the first four home will not send them to Beijing but as champion in 49.63, Ben Hockin, based at the Swansea performance centre in Wales, may be granted the freestyle berth in the medley relay after Ross Davenport, the only qualifier on time in heats, finished fourth in the final and must rely on discretion of the performance director and coaches for a swim in the individual race once in Beijing as a member of a team for which he qualified by right in the 200m freestyle.