The Big Interview: Craig Salmon talks to Chorley swimmer Anna Hopkin who is heading to the Tokyo Olympics
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Anna Hopkin knows the 2021 Olympic Games is going to be like no other.
The Chorley swimming star has been selected to be part of the Team GB squad which will fly to Tokyo later this year.
Having won four golds and one bronze at this year’s European Aquatic Championships, the 25-year-old heads to the Far East as a genuine medal prospect.
Whatever she may go on to achieve in the pool, Hopkin has already fulfilled a lifelong ambition of Olympic selection.
And it is that excited mindset which Hopkin will have when she boards Team GB’s official plane.
The fact that this year’s Games will be different to past events is immaterial to Hopkin.
The Covid-19 pandemic has already caused the Olympics to be delayed a year and moved from its usual Olympiad cycle.
And with restrictions in place and coronavirus safety protocols to adhere to, there is certainly going to be a different feel to the Tokyo Games.
Mingling with athletes from other sports or countries in the Olympic village is likely to be prohibited, while supporting fellow team-mates from the stands in their quest for medals is also set to be banned.
Restrictions on the number of spectators able to attend means family and friends will be forced to watch the action unfold remotely from home.
Certainly, there is disappointment that the unfortunate events of the past year will prevent Hopkin from enjoying the full experience which athletes of yesteryear have taken for granted at an Olympics.
But she believes Tokyo 2021 will have its own special and unique feeling – and will go down in history as the event which will help the world rise and recover from one of the worst ever disasters of modern times.
“Obviously, it is going to be a different Olympics to what we have known before,” said Hopkin.
“Potentially there is not going to be that many spectators.
“There might be a lot of restrictions with regards to whether we can watch other events or where we can go.
“But I think because there’s going to be a lot of restrictions, they will have to find other ways to make it special for the athletes.
“Obviously it would have been nice for it to have been like any other Olympic Games.
“It would be nice to go out and watch other events and fully experience everything else which comes with an Olympics.
“But there really is not that much point dwelling on that though. It is what it is.
“I think after such a tough year and a half for all the athletes, I think we are just really looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be special no matter what and I am just looking forward to embracing it.
“The fact that the Olympics is actually going ahead is a massive deal anyway and if there has to be some restrictions to ensure everybody stays safe, it is a small price to pay.”
Hopkin – who began swimming competitively as a child when she joined Chorley Marlins – admits the past year or so have been an unsettling time.
A specialist sprint swimmer, the past few years have been all about working towards peak fitness and form for the Games in 2020.
Unfortunately, those best laid plans ultimately counted for nothing.
And there was always that nagging doubt as to whether she would be able retune her training programme for this year.
As it is, Hopkin believes the extra year has been beneficial to achieving her goals in Tokyo.
“I was in really good shape last year,” said Hopkin, who studied at Bath University.
“I guess it was playing on my mind a little this year as to whether I would be able to get back to that kind of shape.
“I think I have and I am happy where I am at, but there is always that little bit of doubt.
“I was on an improvement trajectory anyway and I am hoping that an extra year will be beneficial for me but obviously you can never totally know.”
Hopkin has been an integral member of Team GB’s swimming squad for a number of years.
Nicknamed the ‘pocket rocket’, she claimed her debut national title in the 50m Freestyle at the 2017 British Championships, going one better than her silver medal finish the previous year.
She has since won the national 50m gold again, in 2019.
In 2018, she was part of the 4x100m freestyle relay quartet which earned bronze for Team England at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast as well as making the final in both of her individual events.
She moved back to the UK last year after spending time training at the University of Arkansas.
But the Covid-19 pandemic brought her plans of a return home forward and she is now firmly established at the Loughborough National Centre where she is working under the watchful eye of coach Mel Marshall.
After such a difficult year, Hopkin has been pleased with the way she has performed so far in 2021.
Her results at the Euros have certainly put her in a confident frame of mind with Tokyo just around the corner.
She picked up a superb bronze medal in the individual 50m freestyle event but it was in the relays where she really came to the fore winning a remarkable four gold medals .
Hopkin swam the second leg to help the women come home first in the 4x100m freestyle and then anchored the team to victory in the mixed 4x100m medley.
She then swam the third leg as Team GB finished out in front in the 4x100m mixed freestyle relay and then capped a memorable few days by anchoring the women’s 4x100m medley to success in what was the last event of the championships.
“The whole team probably did better than what we expected in Budapest,” she said. “I was very happy with my own performances.
“We did really well in the relays and I think it was the best relay performance that any British team has had at the Euros.
“We won seven out of nine relays and got silver medals in the other two.
“I was part of four winning relays which was amazing.
“We won the 4x100m freestyle on the opening day and that just got the ball rolling.”
It all bodes well for Tokyo where the British team will certainly be in with a good shout for medals across the board.
“I think we have definitely got a good shot at winning some relay medals,” she said. “The Euros have definitely been a good confidence booster for everyone.
“I guess none of us knew quite where we were going to be but to post such good times and get so many medals was good.
“We have still got around eight weeks before the Olympics start and so we have still got plenty of time to perfect everything and do our last touch training.”
Hopkin’s swimming career began with Chorley Marlins at the age of eight and she remains fiercely proud of her roots. “I think my mum Helen took me and my brother James down to
Chorley Marlins and things just progressed from there,” said Hopkin, who attended St Michael’s CE High School and whose father is called Glen.
“I started doing all the mini-leagues and micro-league events.
"I always remember my learn-to-swim teacher said I had a natural butterfly action. To be honest, I don’t know where that came from but I guess I had a natural talent and athletic ability. I was always very sporty.
"I am hoping that I can put Chorley on the map this summer. Hopefully, everybody will be watching and cheering me on.”
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