When Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, 24, announced her retirement from the sport earlier this year, many fans who had cheered her on at London 2012 were surprised.
While she hadn”t repeated the success of Beijing 2008 – where she won two gold medals – her bronze double in the women’s 800m and 400m categories was still a huge triumph.
“Swimming is a young sport. In the event I do, girls win at 15. I”m 24 and it just doesn”t compare, so retirement was the natural step,” Rebecca says with conviction as she explains her decision to retire from competitive swimming exclusively to ! Online.
“I”ve had a fantastic career and have competed in two Olympics, one at home. You just have to go with your gut instincts.”
Rebecca – who recently got engaged to Harry Needs – laughs off suggestions she can now enjoy a languid retirement, though.
“My boyfriend is a swimmer so I haven”t left that world behind completely,” she says. “I”ve been eased out of it so it”s not as scary.”
Her time at London 2012 brought Rebecca into contact with pregnant Kate Middleton who, along with Prince William and Prince Harry, was a very enthusiastic ambassador of the Games.
The two met when the royals visited athletes at the Olympic village. Rebecca and the Duchess bonded over Kate”s “gorgeous” navy wedges, but it wasn”t just the royal”s shoes which left a lasting impression.
“Kate is absolutely stunning. She had a gorgeous pair of shoes on and I asked her where she got them. She just talked with ease, and came across as this interested, warm, friendly and loving person. She had a great buzz about her.
“I”m a huge royal fan and they really got involved. It was brilliant to see them genuinely happy and cheering people on.”
Now that early starts and gruelling training sessions are a thing of the past, Rebecca is focused on her new school project Swim Stars, and her wedding to Harry Needs (pictured below), who she reveals proposed with a romantic treasure hunt which left her “crying her eyes out”.
“It was really personal, there were a lot of personal jokes, our little things that we do. It was lovely, unexpected but lovely.
“At the moment I”m just enjoying being engaged. I still call Harry my boyfriend – fiancé sounds too posh!
“My sister is getting married in May and I”m a bridesmaid so I”m sorting a lot of stuff out for her. I get to see venue ideas and take inspiration from her.”
So can fans expect a star-studded guest list “I”d like Sir Chris Hoy and his wife Sarra to be there, they”re amazing. Other than that, it”ll just be friends and family.”