Born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire on February 17, 1989, Rebecca Adlington was introduced to swimming at an early age. In her early career, she won the gold medal in the girls’ 800-metres freestyle at the European Junior Championships in Lisbon, Portugal in July, 2004 and the silver medal in the women’s 800-metres freestyle at the European Championships in Hungary, Budapest in August, 2006, on her senior international debut.
However, it was at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China that Adlington would become a household name. Still only 19, and with little expectation, she nonetheless won gold medals in both the 400-metres freestyle and 800-metres freestyle. Indeed, in the final of the latter event, Adlington swam a time of 8:14.10, taking 2.12 seconds off the previous long course world record, set by American Janet Evans 19 years previously.
Adlington’s victory in the 400-metres freestyle made her the first British female swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal since Anita Lonsbrough won the 200-metres breaststroke at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Furthermore, she also became the first British swimmer, male or female, to win more than one gold medal at the same Games since Henry Taylor won three at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.
Adlington was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year Honours List for 2009. She went on to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, winning bronze medals in the 400-metres freestyle and 800-metres freestyle. At the time of her retirement from competitive swimming the following February, at the age of 23, Adlington was the most decorated and successful British female Olympic swimmer of all time.