Olympian ready for Gladiator challenge

IT'S time to take the goggles off and put the gloves on for former World Champion swimmer Karen Pickering as she prepares to take on the Gladiators.

IT'S time to take the goggles off and put the gloves on for former World Champion swimmer Karen Pickering as she prepares to take on the Gladiators.

Karen is one of the competitors in the upcoming celebrity special of the legendary gameshow, with the winner getting £5,000 for a charity of their choice.

The ex-swimmer, who is now Ipswich's ambassador for sport, is taking part on behalf of Asthma UK, and will compete against England and Arsenal Ladies footballer Kelly Smith.

The filming takes place this week at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex, and Karen said famous events like Hang Tough and the Eliminator are every bit as hard as they look, even in practice.

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The brave challenger says she is already feeling fragile from all the knocks she has taken in her training for the show.

She may be a four-time world champion and an MBE for her services to swimming, but the demanding physical tasks will be no easy ride for Karen, who retired from international competition in 2005.

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Her opponent Kelly Smith, who has also won an MBE for her services to football, is still playing top-flight football, so she will have a fitness advantage over Karen.

But the former Olympian will hope her swimming background gives her the upper hand in terms of strength and power when she comes face to face with the fearsome gladiators.

Others taking part in the special include 2008 Olympic middleweight boxing champion James DeGale and rugby union World Cup winning scrum half Kyran Bracken.

Karen said: “I actually know some of the Gladiators, like Shirley Webb (ex-British hammer thrower), who is rather unkindly nicknamed Battleaxe. She is in great shape.”

The gladiators take pride in their art, so Karen can expect no favours from her ex-team-mate, but she may be able to get some hints from former British swimming partner Sharron Davies , who used to feature on the show as gladiator Amazon.

The celebrities will compete against the gladiators in four events each, with the aim of gaining vital time advantages for the final “Eliminator” challenge, where competitors race head-to-head along an assault course for victory.

The finished show will be screened some time in 2009, along with another special “legends” episode featuring gladiators from the classic 1990s series competing against the new line-up.

Hunter, Ace, Lightning and Wolf are among the past heroes who will attempt to overturn their young replacements at the new Gladiators arena next year.

Current Gladiators include:

Battleaxe - Shirley Webb.

Cyclone - Donna Williams.

Enigma - Jenny Pacey.

Ice - Caroline Pearce.

Atlas - Sam Bond.

Destroyer - Damar Martin.

Oblivion - Nicholas Aldis.

Predator - Duane Ladejo.

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