Taking the plunge!
Talented young swimmer Freya Colbert has her sights set on this year’s World Championships and beyond, as Kate Chapman finds out.
It’s been a great year for swimmer Freya Colbert who has won medals at two major championships in her first year competing at senior level.
The 18-year-old from Grantham made the podium at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships last summer and is now in training for the next World Championships.
“The year before last I didn’t swim that well, I struggled a bit. I had three or four months out of the water due to the pandemic, which was probably the longest period I’d had out since I was six,” says Freya.
“I moved my training to Loughborough last summer too, which is where a lot of other swimmers are based. Because it was further away, I wasn’t able to train quite as much, so I was a little apprehensive as to how the move up to senior level would go. It was quite strange, suddenly you’re not just going up against people who are your age anymore – you’re racing against everyone!
“But the Commonwealth Games was unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. It’s a multi-sports competition and my family and friends were able to come and watch after not seeing me race for a long time. It was wonderful, but completely surreal!”
Like many youngsters, Freya began swimming at an early age after her parents Guy and Tracey signed her up for lessons at a local pool.
“Our school had a swim team and the coaches recommended that my older sister Molly join a club, so I was taken along too. I think our parents just wanted us out of the house!’ jokes Freya, who moved to Grantham from Surrey when she was 10.
“There’s a three-year gap between us, so I think I was about six when I joined the club and probably the youngest one there. We were going two to three times a week, but I really enjoyed it. I was always under the water, not paying attention and just having fun!
“Things gradually built up from there. I’d always been smaller than the other girls, but then we moved to Grantham, and with the change of location I came to realise I was good at swimming and the training just increased from there.”
Swimming wasn’t the only sport Freya enjoyed. She played netball, rounders and competed in cross country and athletics too, but as her swim training increased, the other activities fell by the wayside.
“I think I was about 13 when the club coaches said I was capable of swimming at European and international level,” recalls Freya, who attended Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ School.
“I had to be quite focussed – I had the attitude that if I was turning up to training, I was going to do it properly. When I was 15, I made my first European juniors’ team. That was the first step.”
Last season Freya took another major step when she moved up to compete at senior level, winning three medals at the British Swimming Championships, including a gold in the 400m individual medley.
Her first taste of international action came at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary with her highest finish being ninth in the 4x200m freestyle relay. She was then selected to race at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the European Championships in Rome, coming away from both with medals.
Freya, who is now studying bioengineering at Loughborough University, competed in three events in Birmingham, finishing just outside the medals in the 400m individual medley and claiming a bronze as part of the 4x200m freestyle relay team.
She followed this with a gold, silver and bronze at the European Championships as she became European Champion in the mixed 4x200m freestyle relay and individual bronze medallist in the 400m individual medley.
“I wasn’t expecting to get onto the podium at the Commonwealth Games, although I knew we had a very good chance with the team, so I would have been more disappointed if we hadn’t made it,” says Freya, whose younger sister Iona also swims at European junior level.
“At the Commonwealths I got into the final in fourth place in the individual medley and thought I could be in with a chance of a medal. Although I achieved a personal best, I missed out by half a second. It was difficult but that’s sport, there’s nothing you can do about it.
“So, I used that when it came to the Europeans to focus me. I was looking good for bronze in the same event, but I wasn’t expecting it. I swam the best race of my life, although I can’t remember much, not even if I cried!
“I was absolutely terrified about the Worlds,” adds Freya. “It was so strange to be walking around the poolside with all these people whom I have looked up to – world record holders and Olympic medallists. Even though I was there to swim too, it was very surreal!”
Freya is already training for next season, spending between 18 and 20 hours per week in the pool, plus another 3-5 hours focussing on land-based work, with the focus on the World Championships in July 2023.
“The move to Loughborough has been good so far,” adds Freya, who previously competed for Nottingham club Nova Centurion.
“It’s where a lot of other swimmers such as Adam Peaty are based, so to be here doing a similar programme, knowing I’m putting in the hard work that’s required, is definitely a confidence boost.
She adds: “As for the future, the World Championships are my main focus. I want to gain more experience, make some finals and make the podium. And then there’s Paris 2024 to look forward to. I train hard, and I’m so grateful for the places I’ve been able to go and the experiences I’ve had through swimming, but race day is my favourite time. I do the training for the competitions, that’s the highlight.
“I’ve been with my coach, Nathan Hilton, for the past five years and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without him. My family have always been so supportive too, they’ve never put pressure on me, I do that myself!
“They just want me to relax, to go out and have fun. They are always happy no matter how I swim. It was great that they were able to be at the Commonwealths, I just wanted to make them proud and happy.”
Photographs: Georgie Kerr, British Swimming & Len Aquatics