Pickering aims to forget Aussies
COMMONWEALTH GAMES: Veteran England captain Karen Pickering is urging her team to put on the blinkers and not worry about all-conquering Australia when the pool action takes centre stage tomorrow.
VETERAN England captain Karen Pickering is urging her team to put on the blinkers and not worry about all-conquering Australia when the pool action takes centre stage tomorrow.
The 30-year-old Ipswich swimmer is competing in her fourth Commonwealth Games, from which she has already gleaned 10 medals.
She is hopeful of more when she launches England's campaign in tomorrow's opening 200m freestyle event, where she will face strong competition from Australian duo Elka Graham and current world champion Giaan Rooney.
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It is one of a host of events where the Australians will start favourites, and the green and golds are confident of maintaining their Commonwealth dominance.
Pickering accepts the Australians will not be challenged in terms of their medal haul, but she believes if each individual English swimmer maintains their own focus, significant inroads can be made.
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"You can't try to beat Australia as a nation, they have the greatest swimmers in the world," she said.
"What it needs is each of us to do our bit in our own race. Hopefully then we can chip away at them, which makes us look better.'
Pickering has been competing at the highest level for the past 12 years and has seen a transformation in attitude within the English camp.
Even over the past two years giant strides have been made following the disappointment of the failure to land a single medal in Sydney two years ago.
"When I first came onto the team, professional swimmers were a rarity and those at the top weren't any better,' she said.
"If you have that kind of attitude you will never get anywhere and it took a long time to shake it off.
"That's what made Sydney so disappointing two years ago.
"We were all tarred with the same brush when, in fact, there were reasons we didn't perform well, not least of which was that there were significantly more world records in the swimming than all the other sports put together.
"But we have managed to turn it around in a very short space of time and I believe we can enter this meeting with confidence.'
Pickering was also part of the 4x200m relay squad which captured the world title in bizarre fashion in Japan last year when the Australian team were disqualified for re-entering the water in celebration before the race had finished.
The Australians were irked at the way Britain reacted to their good fortune and have threatened to gain maximum revenge.
Pickering does not believe her team-mates have anything to be ashamed of.
"If the roles had been reversed I'm sure Australia would have reacted just the same,' she said.
"It was a silly mistake to break such an unusual rule and I guess they are coming here to prove a point but there is no bad blood between the teams.
"I spoke to some of them immediately afterwards and a few times since and it hasn't really been mentioned.'
Undoubtedly, the star of the opening day of competition will be 19-year-old Ian Thorpe, who opens his bid for an unprecedented seven gold medals in his favoured 400m freestyle event in which he has not been beaten since 1998.
England's first-day gold medal hopes are pinned on Manchester's James Hickman, who is looking to defend his 200m butterfly title on home soil.
The popular 26-year-old is the current short-course world champion at the event but will need to be at his best to overcome the challenge of team-mate Stephen Parry and Australia's strongest challenger, Commonwealth record holder Justin Norris.