Olympian keeps studies afloat

30th May 2008 at 01:00
A swimmer who has spent the past eight years studying sports courses at Loughborough College is one of Britain's bright hopes for an Olympic medal this summer

A swimmer who has spent the past eight years studying sports courses at Loughborough College is one of Britain's bright hopes for an Olympic medal this summer.

Mel Marshall, 26, who won six medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2006, will compete in Beijing in the 4x200 metres relay in August.

She is studying for a BSc in sports science, having completed a Btec and a higher national diploma since she first arrived at the college at the age of 18.

Ms Marshall said the support of the college had been vital to her success, and that her studies were helping her prepare for a life after competitive sport.

"The one-to-one approach is so good that I even turned down the opportunity to switch across the road to Loughborough University," she said.

"I can only be a competitive swimmer for so long, and I'm already beginning to push it at my age. So it has always been very important to me to prepare for my life after swimming."

With half of every year spent away from the college competing in top-level swimming competitions, the extra support to help her to complete her studies is crucial.

But the British number three's route to Beijing has not been without some choppy waters: she lost her place in the 100m relay team after a mix-up meant she was not registered for the qualifying race.

In the relay, she hopes to dispel the disappointment of Athens four years ago, when she went into the competition ranked number one in the world in 200m freestyle but failed to make it to the final of the event.

Ms Marshall began competing with the British senior team at 16. She initially competed as a freestyle sprinter, but a decision to switch her to 200m races, in which the 5ft 6in swimmer was less likely to face competitors half a foot taller, had immediate results.

An effervescent figure, affectionately nicknamed "Psycho" by a poolside commentator when she was a teenage swimmer, Ms Marshall has matured into a respected leader in the British team.

In an end-of-year report, Bill Sweetenham, national performance director of British Swimming, said: "Melanie was an excellent leader and provided outstanding support for other athletes on the team. I cannot praise her enough. She has proved an example to all our athletes."

Ms Marshall needs a huge amount of dedication: a typical training week might involve 10 swimming sessions, which take up about 25 hours in total. There are also three weights sessions, and another three sessions of circuit running.

After catching up on her studies, Ms Marshall is due to travel to Japan for three weeks of training on July 20 before the Games begin.

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