Medal winners' glory in Suffolk

IPSWICH'S swimming superstar Karen Pickering is today guest of honour at a civic reception – and she's revelling in the limelight of her adopted hometown.

By Nick Richards

IPSWICH'S swimming superstar Karen Pickering is today guest of honour at a civic reception – and she's revelling in the limelight of her adopted hometown.

Karen is joining the mayor of Ipswich Richard Risebrow and his wife, Shirley, at the special reception to celebrate the success of Suffolk athletes who took part in this summer's Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

The main attraction at the reception is undoubtedly be Karen, who picked up the first of her gold medals in the women's 200m freestyle final edging out her England compatriot Karen Legg by just fractions to finish in a Commonwealth record time of one minute 59.9 seconds.

Just days later Karen added a second gold by leading England to a superb victory in the women's 4x200m freestyle, powering home in the final leg ahead of Australian Petria Thomas to finish in another new Games record.

And since that glorious double gold in Manchester, Karen said she's been impressed by just how many people want to stop and chat to her.

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"Since the Commonwealth Games people have wanted to come up to me in the street and say hello, but I've always been happy when people approach me" she said.

"It's been the same as it was before really - people often shout things like 'Allright swimmer' when I'm walking in the street, but now more people seem to know my face."

Although today sees Karen honoured as a local athlete, she actually hails from Brighton, but has lived in Ipswich for the past 14 years.

With this being the case, Karen said she is delighted to meet the mayor of Ipswich in such circumstances.

"It feels great to be honoured and to be thought of in that way. The first I heard of it was in a letter from the mayor inviting me to the reception. It's just means so much that people from Ipswich support me.

"I still have ties with Brighton and people still follow my career there, but I think of Ipswich as home now. I've had a place here for eight years, although whenever I go back to Brighton I get a good reception."

Karen, 30, said that Ipswich and Brighton were very different as the South coast town had a much faster turnaround of people.

"Ipswich is far more homely – people who live in Ipswich tend to come from Ipswich.

"It's nice to put Ipswich on the map – we've got the football team that often make the headlines and there were two members of the Commonwealth hockey team from Ipswich (Leisa King and Jo Ellis), but I'm on my own so it's nice to also be up there."

Other invitations for the reception went out to former Ipswich goalkeeper Hilary Rose from Bury St Edmunds, the third local member of the England hockey squad, shot putter Mark Proctor from Wenhaston, Newmarket-based javelin thrower Goldie Sayers, Welsh swimmer Dawn Jason from Newmarket who trains at Bury, and Ross Edgar from Newmarket who is affiliated to a cycling club in Bury.

Karen added: "I think any town needs that recognition, and especially a town like Ipswich. I'm proof that you don't need to come from a big town to get somewhere and I think when you come from a smaller town people are far more laid back about things."

Karen, who already has an MBE said she will be back in her swimsuit training for the British Nationals, which start this week.

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