Bury St Edmunds: Swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn insists he’s not past it at 22

Chris Walker-Hebborn

Chris Walker-Hebborn - Credit: PA

Bury St Edmunds swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn admits he was very close to quitting the sport after underachieving at the London 2012 Olympics – but plenty of unfinished business means he is now very much committed to the road to Rio.

The 22-year-old had been tipped for big things at his home Games after dominating the backstroke events on the world and European stage as a junior, claiming a British Championship gold in his first year as a senior, setting a National Record time at the 2009 World Championships in Rome and winning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth games in Delhi the following year.

Walker-Hebborn failed to kick on though, finishing well down in the heats at both the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai and last year’s Olympics. And that left him with some serious soul-searching to do, with statistics showing that the average age of peak performance for men in swimming is just 20.

“The Olympics didn’t go how I wanted and I took some much-needed time off afterwards to think things over,” said the former Team Ipswich Swimming Club member, who is now based at Bath University.

“When things don’t go your way all sorts of things do pop into your head. The qualifying times aren’t getting any easier and there are some really good kids coming through the ranks and you begin to question whether it’s still worth it. I was seriously thinking ‘should I continue?’

“You see the likes of Becky (Rebecca Adlington) retiring (at the age of 24), but it was a bit easier for her because she achieved a great deal and didn’t really have anywhere else to go. By contrast I’m not even close to achieving what I set out to achieve.

“Very quickly I realised there was no way I could quit and then forever be looking back thinking ‘what if?’”

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The annual British Championships begin at the end of this month, an event which will act as qualifying for the World Championships in Barcelona next month. And Walker-Hebborn is confident he can find form once again.

He said: “I picked myself up, got back into training and everything has been really positive. I’ve set targets with my coach and we’re hitting all of them.

“I wanted to put on more muscle mass. At the Olympics I weighed 75 kilos and now, having hit the gym pretty hard, I’m 83 kilos. Everything has picked up from there.

“I’ve been posting some great times, took two golds in Leeds, a first and a second in Edinburgh – and that’s all in the middle of a heavy training schedule.

“I’ve just started to go into taper over the last week and am starting to feel rested and fresh.”

He continued: “The long-term goal is obviously to be on the podium at Rio in 2016, but it’s all very well saying that – now I’ve got to go out and do it.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I definitely think my goals are still within reach and that I’ve got it in me.”