Anderson takes the plunge for Tokyo

If there's one thing Freya Anderson hates, it's the whole street talking about her.

That's exactly what happened when an industrial crane rolled up on the European swimming champion’s doorstep to install an endless pool in her back garden.

But if the shy 19-year-old’s performances continue at current rate, it won’t just be tongues wagging in her native Wirral. Her name will be on the lips of the world.

“I first met Freya in 2017 and she was only 16, but she was really quiet,” says coaching doyen Dave McNulty, to whose programme she’ll switch post-lockdown.

“She’d won the European Juniors and got on the team for the World Championships, so everyone was a little bit older.

“You have to get to know Freya but when she lets you in, she’ll give you everything.

“I went to watch her at the European Championships in Glasgow in December and she had a great smile and connection with the crowd.

“When it came to the race, she ran down (six-time world champion) Federica Pellegrini on the last length. No-one does that.

“When you've got talent like that, you can't hold it back. If we can put the pieces around her, she’s got the talent and temperament to be on the podium in 2021.”

The teenager pitched up at Ellesmere College as a timid 14-year-old, barely uttering a word to any of her peers on the pool deck or even coach Alan Bircher.

Four years later she was a double Commonwealth Games medallist and within five, she was on a mixed relay team with Adam Peaty winning bronze at global level.

The results improved but her environment didn’t. Anderson was waging an Olympic campaign from her old secondary school without an Olympic-sized pool to train in.

Bircher played a crucial role in her rise but as soon as the Olympic Games were postponed to 2021, he was on the phone to University of Bath supremo McNulty.

McNulty, who runs British Swimming’s High Performance Centre, had his eye on the freestyler for some time and took her on a training camp in Australia in January.

As soon as social distancing regulations allow, Anderson will move down to the south-west and start training alongside fellow Olympic hopefuls under McNulty’s charge.

“I’m eternally grateful to Ellesmere but I'd outgrown it a bit and I need something new,” Anderson explains.

“I was only seeing a physio once a week and there were two squat racks in the gym. It doesn't sound like much but at Bath, you have everything you need.

“The difference will be having senior swimmers around me. I’ll be keen to learn from them, see how they go about things and drag performances out of each other.

“I think Dave realised that with my personality, I needed to get to know people at Bath at training camps and have that familiarity to make the transition smooth.”

Anderson now has to overcome the longest enforced break from swimming since she was seven and peak for next summer’s Games.

“Standing on the podium in Tokyo would be amazing,” she says. "But you have to work hard for that. I just want to focus on doing the best I can in training.”

McNulty’s athletes have excelled through the last decade - Joanne Jackson in Beijing, Michael Jamieson in London and Jazz Carlin in Rio all leaving with Olympic medals in tow.

What odds on Anderson joining that roll of honour next year?

“She's got all the tools,” says McNulty. “One thing’s for sure - whether it’s in 2021 or 2024, the podiums are coming. We'll just have to wait and see when."

Sportsbeat 2020