The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are beginning to feel very real for the four University of Bath-based swimmers representing Team GB this summer as they prepare to head off to Brazil.
British Swimming National Centre Bath quartet Jazz Carlin, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, Chris Walker-Hebborn and Andrew Willis have their final pre-Rio training sessions in the Sports Training Village London 2012 Legacy Pool this week.
They will then pack up their Olympic kit and, along with Head Coach Dave McNulty, jet out to the Team GB Preparation Camp in Belo Horizonte – a 45-minute flight from Rio – for final-phase training and acclimatisation.
“I’m excited to get out there,” said Walker-Hebborn, the backstroke specialist who has been training at the University for the past seven years.
“I’ve travelled to a lot of places but Rio isn’t one of them, so I’m looking forward to finally going. I’ve seen lots of amazing photos of the venue and the city.”
Walker-Hebborn and his team-mates were among the first athletes to be selected for Team GB back in April, with the squad announcement taking place at the Sports Training Village three months ago today [April 21].
Much of the intervening period has been spent putting in the hard yards in their home pool and working out in the Team Bath High-Performance Gym, meaning Rio often still felt like a distant goal.
“I kind of almost forgot about the Games for a bit after the Olympic Trials,” said Walker-Hebborn, a reigning World, Commonwealth and European champion who also competed at the London 2012 Olympics.
“Rio still seemed so far away and I had to get back into heavy training, so it was a case of ‘let’s not get too over-excited’.
“The build-up was always going to be a bit different because of the fact it’s not a home Games. In 2012 we had the Olympic Torch come through the University of Bath and other things like that, so there felt a lot more hype about it.
“Rio started to feel a lot closer when we had kitting out a couple of weeks ago. The whole Olympic swimming team was there, so it was good to get excited again.
“The kitting out process was literally exactly the same as for London. I think Team GB do it really well actually, it’s a day you’ll never forget so it was nice to go through it again. To come away with three suitcases full of stuff is a pretty good day out!”
Walker-Hebborn and his fellow swimmers will be in action during the first week of the Games, with the finals starting at 10pm local time (2am BST) rather than the traditional evening schedule at major meetings.
“That isn’t something we are used to but every other athlete is in the same boat so it’s a fair playing field,” he said. “We’ve been working on a few things in training to ensure it won’t be a huge shock to the system.”