sport

Tributes pour in for Adlington

Olympic champions past and present have paid tribute to Rebecca Adlington after she confirmed her retirement from competitive swimming.

The 23-year-old brought to an end a stellar career which saw her claim Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles, making her the most successful British swimmer of the modern era.

Adlington was catapulted to overnight fame after she claimed gold in the 400 metres and 800m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and since then has forged a relentless path to the podium across the globe through her talent and single-minded determination.

The Mansfield-born swimmer will now look to leave her own legacy by setting up her own swimming programme with a dream that every child in the country will be able to swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.

Former Olympic champions Lord Sebastian Coe and Anita Lonsbrough led the tributes for Adlington along with Katie Ledecky, whose startling performance at last year's London Games saw her claim Adlington's 800m crown, 18-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, six-time gold-medal winner.

Coe, who won 1,500m gold at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, said: "Becky Adlington's unforgettable success in Beijing inspired a generation to get in the pool and swim.

"Her down-to-earth personality and remarkable career achievements have made her a national treasure.

"Becky's vision for the future of grass-roots swimming in this country will create a wonderful legacy from one of our greatest Olympians.

"I have no doubt this vision will be pursued with the same drive, dedication and determination as Becky consistently displayed in the pool."

Adlington's coach and mentor Bill Furniss, appointed head coach by British Swimming on Monday, tweeted: "Proud to have been Rebecca's coach the same qualities that made her the best ever will ensure success in everything she does."

Before Adlington's success in Beijing, Lonsbrough had been the last British woman to win Olympic gold with her 200m breaststroke triumph in Rome in 1960.

"Her achievements have been outstanding, she has been a great ambassador for swimming worldwide," said Lonsbrough.

"I was delighted I could witness it (Adlington's Beijing golds) - we had waited so long and it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

"She is so hard-working and has always remained the same person, like the girl next door.

"It leaves a tremendous gap but it's an inspiration for the youngsters coming up."

American 15-year-old Ledecky's victory - only just outside Adlington's world record - shocked observers at the Aquatics Centre.

"I have enormous respect for Rebecca Adlington and for the great passion and excellence she brought to the sport of swimming," she said.

"I will always remember how gracious she was to me in London following our race.

"She retires as the world record holder in the 800m freestyle and she is one of the greatest Olympic swimming champions of all time.

"Her legacy will always stand and I wish her well and much success in her future."

Phelps, who retired after becoming the most decorated Olympian in history in London, said: "She has been a great representative for British swimming and the sport overall.

"I congratulate her on a fantastic career and wish her all the best in the future."

Hoy said: "Becky and I have become great friends over the years since the Beijing Olympics.

"The sheer scale of what she has achieved, not only for herself but also for swimming in this country, is amazing.

"She's been the standard bearer of her sport for a long time now and I expect that to be the case for many years to come."

Long-time rival Lotte Friis, the 2008 800m bronze medallist and 2009 world champion, said: "Becky is a great girl and now she chooses to retire I am really sad because we have a great relationship in competitions and it will be really hard not to swim against her.

"When you reach the level we have you always want to win and want to beat the girls next to you and leave it all in the pool.

"But afterwards you also have to be that smiley person and I think Becky had that entire package."

Adlington was a bridesmaid at the wedding of world open water champion and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne to fellow swimmer and Olympic finalist David Carry.

In a statement, Payne said: "I will miss sharing a room with Becky and her presence will be missed on teams in the future.

"Becky has done so much for swimming in Britain and I'm sure she will stay close to the sport and continue to champion future British Olympians."

World, European and Commonwealth medallist Mel Marshall, who undertook a charity bike ride across Zambia with Adlington last year, said: "What an emotional day for all I guess, closing one chapter and opening another..

"Becky has given her all and should look back at all she has achieved with great pride... It's not until you step out of it you realise how well you did in it."

BOA chief executive Andy Hunt said: "Through her remarkable talent and tireless work ethic, Becky Adlington has set a standard of excellence that future generations of Team GB athletes will aspire to reach.

"She represents the very best of what British sport, and the Olympic Movement, are all about.

As Becky transitions now into a new phase of her career, we wish her the very best for continued success, and congratulate her on her remarkable career with Team GB."