Lorna is counting down to the Games

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Every fraction of a second counts to Scotland's promising young swimmer as she aims for the senior Commonwealth Games, writes Roddy Mackenzie

Lorna Smith seems to have an easy life. The fifth year pupil at Gleniffer High in Paisley has only three Higher exams, in English, maths and geography, to study for and her school day finishes at lunchtime.

It is a false impression. The Commonwealth Youth Games medallist crams more into a day than most of us, rising at 4.30am on four weekdays and fitting her school work around training, travelling and swimming competitions.

Promising swimmers have always had strict training regimes and Lorna has spent the past few years knowing nothing different. She accepts the sacrifices that have had to be made.

Her most important year so far - in school and out - beckons as she hopes to secure a place in Scotland's team for next year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

She is highly regarded by Scottish Swimming, is attached to the Scottish Institute of Sport and has been selected for British Swimming's world-class youth programme this year.

Even when Lorna is not swimming at her best, she is hard to beat, as she showed at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Bendigo, Australia, in December.

She returned as Scotland's most successful participant with two gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

"I'd been ill before I went out and wasn't expecting too much, but I was really pleased to come back with five medals - more than anyone else in the Scottish team," the 16-year-old says.

"We arrived only two days before it but it didn't take me too long to acclimatise. The jet lag was more difficult coming home."

The seven boys and seven girls on the Scottish swimming team took 30 medals in all with every competitor winning at least one, which suggests there is a bright future for the sport.

Earlier this month, SportScotland invested pound;640,000 in swimming - one of the highest awards ever made to a sport governing body - and Lorna was one of the swimmers picked out for improved funding.

Her performances in Bendigo are the highlight of her career so far and competing against some of the world's best young swimmers has only whetted her appetite to return to Australia in March next year.

"It was the first time I'd been away with athletes from other sports.

Everyone was really friendly and there was a great atmosphere. I didn't swim any personal bests at all but I was happy with what I achieved."

There has been little chance to bask in any glory. Last month Lorna was off for a fortnight's altitude training in Mexico. She has to find the fractions of a second necessary to achieve the Commonwealth Games qualifying times this year.

Having made her international breakthrough just weeks before her 16th birthday with a bronze medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the European Junior Championships in Portugal last July (where she also finished fifth in the individual 100m backstroke), Lorna now wants Commonwealth qualifying times in the 100m and 200m backstroke, 200m and 400m individual medley and the 800m freestyle.

"I'm just tenths of a second outside the qualifying time in some of the events and a few seconds away from it in the 800m freestyle," she says.

"My next big event is the world trials in Manchester next month for the world championships in Montreal in July.

"I think it will be really difficult to get to the championships. I know I'll need to swim really fast at the trials, but we'll see."

Lorna learned to swim at the age of six. Two years later, in 1996, she joined the local club, Ren 96, and achieved her first breakthrough when she won a silver medal at the Scottish Schools' Championships in the 50m butterfly. She now holds Scottish long course junior records in 100m and 200m backstroke, 200m and 400m individual medley and 800m and 1500m freestyle and senior records in 100m and 200m backstroke and 1500m freestyle, as well as a short course junior record in 800m freestyle.

Three months ago, Lorna switched clubs to join the City of Glasgow Swim Team, based at Tollcross Leisure Centre.

"There is more travelling but there are better benefits," she explains. "In the last two years things have started to happen for me. I think I now have eight Scottish junior records and three senior records.

"Moving to the Glasgow Swim Team will help as I'm training with Rebecca Cooke, who reached the 400m freestyle final at the last Olympics, and another English girl, Danielle Berry, who I was with at the European Junior Championships.

"At Ren 96, I had to race against boys as they were the only ones that were as fast as me, so I enjoy this more."

Without the flexibility that Gleniffer High allows, Lorna concedes that her training programme would be even more difficult to endure.

"The school has been very good to me and I finish at lunchtime every day.

It has worked out well as my subjects are all in the morning and it leaves my afternoons free, when I can get my homework done, do some revision or even get an hour's sleep.

"I take my school books to meets when I can, but a swimming pool is not the best place to concentrate.

"Some of my schoolmates think it must be a dawdle just sitting three Highers, but it's hard fitting in schoolwork with the swimming.

"I get up at 4.30am almost every day to train between 5.30am and 7.30am.

When I come back from evening training at 8pm, all I want to do is relax and sit and watch television or sleep. I don't really want to do homework at that stage.

"Even when I have my rest day on Sundays, I'm often away at competitions.

"I have to catch up on the work I've missed when I'm away at competitions but the teachers have all been very good to me."

Lorna is keeping her options open. "I'd like to stay in sport when I leave school but I've not made up my mind 100 per cent," she says. "I want to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics first.

"It would be nice to get a scholarship to Stirling University but I'll see what happens.

"I've also thought about going to Australia as they have a strong swimming tradition and it is a good outdoor life.

"I have relatives there and I intend to stay on for a few weeks after the Commonwealth Games to see how much I enjoy it."

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