WITH the London Olympic Games on the horizon, Gemma Spofforth has one simple target for 2012 and that is to enjoy herself.
After contemplating quitting swimming last year, after illness saw her exit the World Championships in the heats, she just wants to enjoy herself this year as she believes that will give her the best chance of making the Great Britain Olympic team and winning a medal.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Shoreham and started swimming at Littlehampton Swimming Club, finished fourth in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when she missed out on a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke by just 0.04sec and that has proved a huge motivation for her ever since.
On this year’s Games, she said: “The Olympics aren’t quite in the forefront of my mind just yet. Obviously, the trials are in March, so that’s kind of my focus.
“They’re in the Olympic pool, so it will be a really great time to go and experience everything.
“August hasn’t really come into my mind. I’m just enjoying training and enjoying having fun with it.
“The whole point of this year is just for me to enjoy it and just to have fun swimming.
“The more I enjoy it and the more I have fun with it, the more likely that I’m going to be able to make the team and to medal.
“It will be a great experience to get in the team, and to have the home crowd will be a great experience – especially as you’re in front of people who want you to win and who are behind you, so I think it will just be a really fun atmosphere.”
The fourth-placed finish in Beijing was a huge motivation for Spofforth. She had the finishing time as her screen saver on her laptop, so she could never forget it.
She said: “The last Olympics were amazing. They were my first and I just tried to take in everything. It was kind-of the Disneyland effect.
“It’s just really fun to be part of that and to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself and I think it will be the same in London – just being part of the village and living in a place where all these people are your peers and who are at the same level you are.
“But to finish fourth by 0.04 of a second was a great disappointment but it also made me believe that I had something.
“It went back to the finish in Beijing, which was slightly off and going back, learning that, day in, day out, got me my first place in the World Championships in 2009.
“I was a little bit off that in 2010 and I didn’t do my finish quite so well in the Commonwealth Games, so I’ve got to go back and refine that and become a good finisher again.
“Finishing fourth was a huge motivation for me and there was a lot of motivation that came from the raw emotions of losing my mum (Lesley to cancer in 2007), too.
“She was a big influence on me, got me into swimming and really kick-started me into being the person who I am today.”
Spofforth, who has been based in Florida since 2006 after heading to the University of Florida, won the 100m backstroke in 2009 in Rome in a world record time of 58.12sec but did not even qualify for the semi-finals in 2011 after food poisoning in Shanghai, which led to thoughts about quitting.
She said: “I thought about it but am definitely glad I haven’t.
“When I came back to Florida after the worlds, I was very disappointed and I had a huge decision to make – to swim or call it a day,
“I realised that I had a choice that I could quit swimming if I wanted to and it’s not going to change who I am as a person. It’s not going to change how many people are my friends and things like that, so realising that there was a choice is what created the motivation for this year.
“I’m a huge thinker, being in the psychology world and wanting to be a counsellor. My brain is my biggest attribute and one of my biggest detriments. It’s something that creates this belief in me that I think that I can win but, also, if there’s any niggling doubts, it’s my biggest detriment.
“I’ve just recently been able to sort of switch off, though, and have learned how to meditate, which has been really good,
“That is why I just want to enjoy my swimming, now. Longer term, I’m just going to see what happens after this year.
“If I’m still enjoying the swimming, I’ll continue and if I’m not then I’m going to go Grad School in America and become the best counsellor that I can be.”
Spofforth was back home in Sussex before Christmas for “An Evening with Gemma Spofforth” at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester, with Andrew Castle as the host and former Olympic swimmer Mark Foster as a guest.