British swimmers hope to ride wave of home support
LONDON (Reuters) - A roaring capacity crowd, with their cheers resonating around the new Aquatics Centre, could make all the difference when Britain's swimmers push for medals at their home London Olympics.
The nearby Velodrome provided a wall of sound to fire up the home country's cyclists at a World Cup event last month and the swimmers, whose national trials started on Saturday, hope to ride a similar wave of support come July.
The aquatics events, along with track cycling, have been among the hottest tickets for Britons eager to cheer on familiar faces such as double Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington and former diving world champion Tom Daley.
"I believe it lies in the crowd," British swimming's performance director Michael Scott told reporters when asked about any home advantage at the venue with its undulating and expensively assembled roof ready to be metaphorically raised by flag-waving fans.
"We go to Shanghai for the worlds, a temporary venue and we arrive four days before. By and large you go to Rome or Delhi and swimmers adapt and become familiar with them (the facilities) very quickly," he said.
"It's the crowd. It's certainly something the swimmers are really looking forward to...that for me is the real home advantage."
The importance of the trials, apart from setting the qualifying times, is also for swimmers to get a taste of the atmosphere in what they hope will become their 'house' when the Games start on July 27.
With the last Olympics on British soil held in London 64 years ago, London 2012 will be a first home appearance for all athletes. For some 70 percent of the country's biggest ever team, it will also be their first Games.
Head coach Dennis Pursley said just being familiar with the venue beforehand was a big plus and the crowd would be "the biggest single advantage," even if other nations would get a chance to train there as well.
Adlington, ever respectful of her opponents, has said she is taking nothing for granted but was looking forward to some noise.
"I've done trials before but never had a big home crowd," she told British reporters. "The difference is huge. I remember when we went to Rome (for the world championships) in 2009, it was crazy for (Italian) Federica (Pellegrini).
"We all got excited thinking this could be us in London. That would be amazing to have because it does lift you."
Away from the venues, Team GB and the British Olympic Association aim to silence other less welcome noise.
The clamour for tickets from friends and family, particularly at a once-in-a-lifetime home Games, and making sure they can attend provides a potential source of stress for athletes.
That has been dealt with through a 'nearest and dearest' programme run by sponsor Procter and Gamble, which looks after the family side and makes sure every home competitor has tickets for at least their first event.
"If you know as an athlete that the people that are coming to support you are being well looked after... it's just one less thing to worry about," BOA director of Sport Clive Woodward told Reuters.
"From a performance point of view, you can take away all the noise and just focus on what you do."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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