Rio Paralympics worries will not get Norfolk golden girl Jessica-Jane Applegate down
- Credit: PA
Jessica-Jane Applegate insists it will be business as usual despite harbouring her own fears about the crisis-hit Paralympics.
The Norfolk swimmer will line-up in Rio as a defending champion but is well aware she will be part of a very different Games to the one she experienced in London four years ago. Massive financial restrictions have been imposed on the Brazil showcase, which has been seriously struggling to sell tickets, but Applegate is determined to not let those worries overshadow her trip.
She said: 'I am really saddened by the budget cuts and I hope that all the countries are able to attend. I am there to do a job, I want to represent Great Britain as best I can and hopefully make everyone back home proud. We (Paralympics GB) will have an amazing Games whatever situation is thrown at us.'
Legendary Phelps is providing extra motivation for golden girl
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You'd forgive Jessica-Jane Applegate for looking in the mirror for extra inspiration.
The 20-year-old has made sporting history. She has to overcome learning difficulties every day. And she's about to embark on her second Paralympic Games.
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But even Norfolk's golden girl of London 2012 needs to look elsewhere for added motivation ahead of her Rio adventure. Unsurprisingly, it came in the shape of the greatest swimmer, if not sporting competitor, of all time.
Applegate said: 'I really enjoyed watching the Olympics but I had to limit myself on what I was watching as I found myself getting addicted and wanting to stay up all night.
'I am a huge fan of Michael Phelps and he inspired me to get into competitive swimming, so watching him achieve what he did this summer was absolutely amazing.'
While Applegate may never get anywhere near the American icon's haul of 23 gold medals, she already has one of her own. The Burgh Castle-based, near Great Yarmouth, swimmer became the first British S14 swimmer to stand at the top of a Paralympic podium during London 2012 thanks to a famous 200m freestyle success. Aged just 16 at the time, the former Ormiston Venture Academy pupil – who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome while at secondary school – admits she's feeling more relaxed going into her latest quest for glory.
'It's been a long build-up. After London, Rio seemed to be forever away,' said the City of Norwich star.
'But the last few months have happened so quickly I cannot believe it's almost here. I just want to get out there, do my job and get back home to my family and my dogs. I will miss them so much.
'I am definitely more prepared as it's a second Games for me. I've had so much more experience now and I've learned so much from some incredibly experienced team members so I am happy going into the Games. I don't feel the pressure at all. Although I hold the Paralympic title, I haven't won the 200m freestyle since 2014 so I'm certainly not expected to win anything which is quite a nice feeling.'
Being ill in the run-up to the Games, which start today, has hardly helped Applegate's preparations. Neither have fears that massive budget cuts will prevent countries from making it to Brazil as well as almost destroying the event's infrastructure.
Much like the Olympics, vast swathes of empty seats are expected at venues but the Norwich City fan is hopeful her time in South America will still be memorable.
Applegate, competing in the S14 100m backstroke (tomorrow), S14 200m freestyle (Sunday), S14 100m breaststroke (September 14) and S14 200m individual medley (September 17), added: 'It's about keeping the Paralympic movement moving forward and the legacies alive so it upsets me to see we are in the situation.
'It was an incredible shame seeing all the empty seats while the Olympics were on. Hopefully by the time I compete they will have given the tickets out to school children and allow them to be a part of something wonderful that they will always remember.
'As for me, I never enter a competition aiming for anything less than gold. Why would you? If I can make it through the heats and into the finals I will be happy but I so desperately want to be on the podium so I will give everything I have to be in the mix.'