Karen is Ipswich's golden girl

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: Karen Pickering is today the toast of Ipswich and England after storming to Commonwealth Games gold.The Suffolk star clinched glory in a dramatic 200m freestyle final last night which ended in an unexpectedone-two triumph for the host nation.

By Debbie Watson

KAREN Pickering is today the toast of Ipswich and England after storming to Commonwealth Games gold.

The Suffolk star clinched glory in a dramatic 200m freestyle final last night which ended in an unexpected

one-two triumph for the host nation.

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Pickering, who had convincingly won her heat yesterday morning, had been trailing England team-mate Karen Legg until midway through the race.

To the rapturous applause of her team and supporters, she then pulled away on the third length and held on to the top spot to finish in a Games record of 1.59.69.

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For the 30-year-old veteran swimmer, last night's triumph marks the 11th medal of her Commonwealth career and only the second individual gold.

The performance – which convincingly beats the times recorded by Pickering at the last two Commonwealth Games for the 200m event – firmly defies her critics.

It had been suggested that the Ipswich ace would be unable to remain competitive at this stage in her career, and that she would soon be heading for retirement from the pool.

But Pickering had consistently told The Evening Star that she was feeling strong and well prepared.

She was determined to take a medal in yesterday's event and her emotional post-race reaction came as little


"I can't believe I just did that," she said tearfully. "I had been feeling good but I knew it was a tough race.

"We got a one-two which is just incredible. It's the third time running the girls from England have won the first event so we've got to keep that going."

Today her Ipswich team-mate Zoe Cray spoke proudly of Pickering's success.

"She looked absolutely amazing out there. It was a fantastic swim and she thoroughly deserved the medal," said the 28-year-old.

"I received a text message from her in the early hours of this morning saying how she couldn't sleep and how she's still on cloud nine after the swim.

"It's brilliant for her because she was so positive about this one and she had gone out there with a race plan which worked perfectly."

She added: "I spoke to (coach) Dave Champion while Karen was at Loughborough preparing for the Games. He said she was swimming really well and that really was so obvious from last night.

"She'd been apprehensive about the 200 because she hadn't done so well at it in the nationals recently. She must have been all the more determined to succeed and it certainly paid off."

Cray, who had herself hoped to be at the Games, said: "I was so nervous sitting there in front of the television watching Karen swim.

"I started kicking my legs – you really feel like you're going through it with her."

She added: "I couldn't stop myself from crying when she won. I was just so excited and overwhelmed. I'm thrilled for her."

Pickering is on course to take a possible hat-trick at the Manchester event.

Feeling even more positive after her 200m triumph, she is heading back to the Aquatics Centre intent on reaching the top three for two further events.

She is certainly well placed to claim a medal in the 100m freestyle, having finished fourth in the event in the 1990 Games and scooped gold in 1994.

Her personal best for this event (long course) stands at an impressive 55.58 and if she can beat off the tough competition of her Australian rivals she will be hot favourite for glory.

Pickering has another gold medal chance in the freestyle relay.

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