2023 Athlete of the Year Awards: Rebecca Adlington recalls winning the inaugural women’s award as a “newbie” following Beijing 2008

Credit to: MAGICPBK/Patrick B. Kraemer

The 2023 Athlete of the Year Awards will celebrate male and female competitors from Swimming, Diving, Artistic Swimming, High Diving and Open Water.

Voting closes on March 3rd (11:59pm CET) with the winners set to be revealed between March 25th and 3rd April.

Link to vote here.

Ahead of the 2023 awards, European Aquatics spoke to previous winners.

First up is Rebecca Adlington, the first female recipient of the award in 2008 after winning double Olympic gold in Beijing.

Rebecca Adlington became the first British woman in 48 years to win Olympic gold when she got her hand to the wall first in the 400m freestyle at Beijing 2008.

Adlington led home teammate Joanne Jackson for a Great Britain 1-3 in front of Anita Lonsbrough, who had been the last British woman to claim an Olympic title with 200m breaststroke gold at Rome 1960.

The then 19-year-old went on to take the 800m freestyle title at the Water Cube, lowering Janet Evans’ 19-year world record to 8mins 14.10secs as she led home an all-European podium of Alessia Filippi of Italy and Denmark’s Lotte Friis.

Guided from the age of 12 by Bill Furniss – now the Great Britain head coach – at the Nova Centurion club in Nottingham, Adlington was named top female pool swimmer at the 2008 LEN Awards, voted for by the national federations.

Alain Bernard won the men’s award after claiming a medal of each colour in the Chinese capital including 100m freestyle bronze.

Casting her mind back, Adlington tells Europeans Aquatics: “I was just a girl from Mansfield, I didn’t really realise the importance of LEN and European Aquatics in general.

“I had only swam at a couple of Europeans and stuff before so I remember Bill really telling me, going ‘this is amazing that you have won this.’

“I think it was voted for and I remember thinking amazing that people have voted and insane.

“I think anything that is voted for always seems to be a bit more like – special’s not the right word because everything’s special – it’s a bit more heartwarming I guess, ‘aw people have voted for me’.

“There’s just something really nice about it.”

European women claimed a freestyle clean sweep in Beijing.

As well as Adlington’s double, Britta Steffen won the 50m and 100m and Federica Pellegrini took the 200m.

It is a measure of Adlington’s achievements that she eclipsed the pair to win the award.

“Some of the names in European swimming – obviously Pellegrini was huge, I remember idolising Pellegrini for years – but even beforehand (before Beijing) she was such a big name in swimming, they were such big names in European swimming at that time,” she said.

“That’s why it was even more incredible because I was just this newbie: I hadn’t done anything until Beijing.

“So it is amazing to go up against such amazing, incredible, really strong athletes and come out as the winner – that means even more.

“They were amazing: I idolised those guys, never mind anyone else.

“It just meant a lot.”