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Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games

Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games

SWIMMER Holly Hibbott is among the first wave of Britain’s Olympic hopefuls to be vaccinated, but isn’t breathing sighs of relief just yet, writes Tom Harle.

The 21-year-old has asthma and received a first AstraZeneca shot six weeks ago, experiencing no side effects apart from a bad headache and an aching arm.

Hibbott had a brush with COVID in the first lockdown when her mum, working on an NHS ward, contracted the virus and self-isolated in the same household for two weeks.

But the middle-distance freestyle star says anxiety around false positives and contact tracing remain for athletes targeting Tokyo, with her new Bath base affected last autumn.

“It’s great to have had the vaccine, but COVID is always still in the back of my mind,” said Hibbott.

“I still feel like I can get it and I can still be contact-traced. We got pinged back in October from one of the boys in our squad and that was two weeks out of the water.

“The idea of ten days out of the water the closer you get to the Games is pretty scary.

“When Mum had it, it was a really nervy time. No-one wants to get this virus, you don’t know how you’re going to be affected by it.

“The concern as an athlete in an endurance sport is how it will affect you long term.”

The British Olympic Association’s position remains to ‘wait patiently’ for athletes to be called in the UK’s wider vaccine programme.

The current target date for 20 to 29-year-olds – the vast majority of Team GB – to be offered the vaccine is the end of July, with the Games opening on July 23.

Hibbott said: “I do think (other athletes) just have to wait it out, because it looks like most people will have had it by July and vaccine programme is amazing.

“I think everyone should get a jab, but we’re all entitled to our own opinion. If you don’t want it, you don’t want it.”

Hibbott can punch her Olympic ticket as soon as this week as swimming’s Olympic Trials begin with usual COVID restrictions in London on Wednesday.

The Stockport native is Britain’s next cab off the rank in the 400m freestyle event, aiming to emulate the medal-winning feats of Rebecca Adlington, Jo Jackson and Jazz Carlin.

Coached by Carlin’s mentor Dave McNulty, Hibbott emerged to win Commonwealth gold and European bronze in 2018 and set her standing personal best.

Injury and loss of form intervened in 2019 and she finished tenth at the 2019 World Championships, a result she’s desperate to scrub out of history.

“I was a bit all over the place in 2019,” she said.

“I hurt my foot just before the World Championships, so I had to come back better from that and I felt I was in good form before COVID.”

“I definitely feel that I’ve got a point to prove at Trials and I’m in a great place to do that.”

British Swimming have been forced to reduce the size of fields for the Trials in a grim year for athletes that, unlike Hibbott, don’t train at high performance centres.

Hibbott knows several friends and peers at her club Stockport Metro who have quit the sport during lockdown.

“It could have been me, and it’s so sad that people are leaving swimming entirely,” she said.

“It’s just tough to motivate yourself if you’re on your own and in and out of the water. There’s a danger we lose a generation of swimmers.

“Hopefully some of the younger kids can see what we do in the pool at the Olympics and take inspiration from that pathway still being there.”

Sportsbeat 2021