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UEL road to Rio: Aimee Willmott hoping for a flying start at Olympics

UEL students

UEL student will be one of first Team GB athletes to see competitive action in Rio 

While hundreds of British athletes and officials enjoy the carnival atmosphere of the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Rio on 5 August, Team GB swimmer Aimee Willmott will be hoping for a much quieter night in Brazil.

The University of East London (UEL) student is scheduled to compete the following day in the 400 metres individual medley (IM) and will be doing her best to block out any firework noise and get a decent night’s rest in the athletes’ village.

“The swimmers never get to attend the Opening Ceremony,” says Aimee, who will be one of the first Team GB athletes to see action at the 17-day Olympics.

“It’s always a little bit of a sad thing because it would be quite nice go to the event and open the Games, but the swimming programme always starts on day one of the Olympics, and my event will actually be on day one, so I definitely won’t be there. I’ll be tucked up in bed.”

Aimee, 23, who will be competing in her second Games after making her Olympic debut in London in 2012, knows she will need to be in the best possible physical shape if she is to fulfil her ambition of making the eight-woman final of the 400m IM.

She is ranked No 6 in the world in the event this year but a number of swimmers can be expected to raise their game in the white heat of Olympic competition.

“I was just outside the finals slots in London in 2012, so making a final in Rio is really a big aim for me,” she says

“Then, once I’m in a final, it’s anyone’s game really and maybe I can get my hand on the wall and win a medal. The first step, though, is to make a final and then swim well.

“If I swim a personal best and get close to what I’ve been doing recently, then there’s every chance that I could come away with a medal.”

One of the biggest challenges facing swimmers in Rio is the unusual scheduling to accommodate American broadcaster NBC. Heats will commence at 1pm Brazilian time with the finals session starting at 10pm.

“With the difference of the heats being in the afternoon and the finals quite late at night, it could be anyone’s game,” says Aimee. “It could come down to who deals with the situation the best.”

Aimee, who is studying for a degree in Sport and Exercise Science, trains with her coach, Lisa Bates, at the London Aquatics Centre – the venue for the swimming events at the London Olympics.

“I train at the London Aquatics Centre ten times a week, and it is the place where my Olympic memories started,” she says.

“I always wanted to compete at an Olympic Games and to represent GB in London was fantastic. To then come back and train in the pool every day gives me the chance to relive those memories and makes getting up in the morning a little bit easier.”

Just to have made it onto the GB swimming team is quite an achievement for Aimee after the governing body, British Swimming, introduced tough selection criteria to create a leaner, meaner squad for Rio.

Aimee says, “The team for Rio is quite small in comparison to London. I think there were 35 athletes in London and they’re sending just 26 athletes to Rio.

“They’re sending a smaller group of swimmers who they think can do well, so it’s quite an honour to be picked as one of those athletes. I just have to prove that they were right to pick me.”

Aimee adds that she is very grateful for the support she has received from staff at UEL to help her juggle training sessions and travel abroad with her studies.

She says, “Being a student at UEL, it’s great to be part of a team. There’s such a good atmosphere around sport at UEL and it’s nice to feel part of another family.

“It’s always hard trying to balance sport and university studies but UEL has been so supportive in finding that balance and it’s worked out really well.

“I’m studying Sport and Exercise Science at UEL on a part-time route because I need to balance both my swimming and my studies and I’ve really enjoyed the course so far.

“I’ve got one more year left, so it’s going to be a busy year ahead. It’s not such a busy year for sport so hopefully I’ll be able to knuckle down and come away with some good grades."