Pickering sets 2003 targets

SHE was the golden girl of Suffolk – and England – when she triumphed so spectacularly in the Commonwealth Games.And rest assured, she's eager for glory again this year!Karen Pickering has had a magnificent 12 months in the pool and she'll certainly not stop short of medal-winning performances in 2003.

By Debbie Watson

SHE was the golden girl of Suffolk – and England – when she triumphed so spectacularly in the Commonwealth Games.

And rest assured, she's eager for glory again this year!

Karen Pickering has had a magnificent 12 months in the pool and she'll certainly not stop short of medal-winning

performances in 2003.

The 31-year-old Ipswich star is already plotting her

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latest competitive agenda and will be back in the spotlight on January 17 when she begins a furious round of competitions in Paris.

"I'm really looking forward to the year," she said. "I feel good about where I'm at and how I'm swimming, and I know I've got some good competitions ahead in which to test myself.

"It gets underway really quickly in 2003 – starting with the three back-to-back World Cups."

The World Cups form a notoriously tough series of swims, with the European leg alone involving a total of six days in the pool, and three venues.

"The Cups work on a point system where you become eligible if you take part in all the regions (including Americas and Asia).

"I'm only doing the three in Europe, but that's tough enough as it is. They come thick and fast on the back of each other so you have to keep up the pace, but at the same time watch for the signs of fatigue."

Despite the obviously big challenge, Karen is as eager as ever to get on and embrace it.

"I've been training hard and I feel good," she said. "I know that this is going to be a tough one because the

performance director – Bill Sweetenham – will be there and he demands a lot.

"I think Bill has been good for the British team in that respect. He does demand a lot and I'm sure that's come as a shock to some people, but not really to me.

"I've always been used to being pushed hard and Dave has always kept me very disciplined within my training."

Dave Champion has been at Karen's side throughout her competitive career and has himself found greater acclaim in recent times, having been selected to head the team of coaches at the European Short Course Championships in Germany last month.

This month he will attend the European leg with Karen.

"Dave's approach has meant that I'm able to cope with the demands of a meet like this.

"It means I'm better able to rise to it – although I will be conscious of giving myself time to recover on my return if necessary."

Back in Suffolk, Karen's focus will be on the trials for the long-awaited World Championships. These take place in Barcelona between July 13 and July 27.

"That's my main one for the year without a doubt," said Karen. "It's important to me that the trials go well and that I can take my place at Barcelona feeling strong and

confident."

Karen accepts that her exceptional

performance in the Commonwealths at Manchester last year has indeed helped her level of confidence as she enters 2003. That said, she's certainly not about to get

complacent.

"I am feeling confident, that's true," she admitted. "I never take it for granted that the next year will be an easy one.

"There are always new people coming through and you just can't afford to give yourself a break and ease off."

Under the direction of Sweetenham, few British swimmers would even dare to

suggest that they might like to 'ease off'.

His effective formula proved itself at the Commonwealth Games and is bound to

continue to do so throughout the

forthcoming year.

Karen is just one of the many 'insiders' who believes the 'Sweetenham magic' is working wonders.

"Bill is definitely getting us used to working harder, and I'm certain it's producing a better standard of British team," she said.

"His approach will make us a stronger and a more consistent team."

That strength will become even more important to the Suffolk star, as she begins to focus her attentions on the one main goal that means so much to her in her professional world.

"It's the Olympics that I'm set on," she insisted. "Everything else feels like it's 'along the way'.

"I'll be giving my all to getting my place in the Games for 2004. It's the one medal I haven't got and so I'm determined to

complete the set."

Karen's existing Olympic record includes a tenth in the 200m freestyle in 1992, a 13th in the same event in 1996, and a 13th and an 18th in 2000. This time around, her prospects could hardly look more promising.

With such a stunning Commonwealth

performance behind her, the swimming world would be hard-pressed to doubt her chance of medal success.

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