On the 10th of February our ten-strong GB team headed to Istanbul in hopes of qualifying for the European games. We achieved far more than we could have imagined, sealing qualification as well as a bronze medal in the free routine event!
The realisation that we’d be making history, by competing at the first ever European games, held in Baku, was immense and filled us with excitement. This excitement gave us the drive that we needed to up our game in training, ready for Baku.
We then had about three months before the games. In early May the team went to the English Championships as a practice event, but I set off to Tokyo for the Japan Open with the duet squad. We all gained experience and confidence from our respective competitions. Watching the high-level competitors in Japan gave me insight into what the team and I needed to do to improve our scores.
When we were all back training together again, we only had about four weeks until Baku, so it was straight back to it. We had an intense training camp throughout May half-term, which was very productive and we saw a lot of improvement.
On May 31st we went to the Team GB kitting out day in Birmingham and received all of our Team GB kit (a whole suitcase of it!). We had our Team GB headshots taken, and the dream started to become reality - we were actually going to the European Games!
We then had one final training camp before we flew to Baku. It was a stressful camp as many people, including myself, had exams, and so missed a lot of training sessions. But we managed to work through it and have a really successful camp. We were ready for the games.
On the morning of the 9th of June we gathered at the airport, said our goodbyes and jetted off to Baku, Azerbaijan. After a six-hour flight and a short bus journey we arrived in the athletes village. It was a lot larger than I was expecting it to be and looked amazing. The buildings had an Eastern European look to them that tied in with the rest of the city. There was a huge food hall where all the athletes ate, a few recreational centres and also a shopping area, which included a hair and nail salon. On the last day we biked round the village, which was really fun. You could often tell which country was staying in each building, as large flags would be flying out the windows.
Five of us sat a number of GCSEs and A Levels in Baku, in between training and events. We had two training days at the pool before the competition began. The pool was brand new and was an incredible facility, although it was very cold as it had only just been filled up!
On the 12th of June the competition commenced with the duet prelim event, in which our duet qualified for finals, which was a great start to the competition for Team GB. This was then followed by the free team prelim event. It was nerve racking, as it was my first event of the competition, and it was the biggest competition any of us had ever been to. However, this didn’t affect our swim at all. In fact it gave us the adrenaline we needed to perform at our best and we qualified for finals in 10th place.
That evening we went to the opening ceremony, which was such a surreal experience. A road was closed so that all the athletes from the village could march down to the stadium where we all waited outside for our entrance. When Great Britain was called forward, Nicola Adams, who won a gold medal at London 2012 (and now also at Baku 2015) took the large GB flag, and we marched out behind her into the arena to a huge roar from the 68,000 spectators. It was absolutely mind-blowing how many people there were, and walking around the arena was the most pride-filling experience of my life. It literally felt like we were on another planet. The arena looked like a spaceship and there were fireworks exploding in the sky. It was such an out of this world experience. The acts and performances were also amazing, especially Lady Gaga!
The next day was the solo and combination team prelim events and my last GCSE. The combo team involves all ten of us, and it went really well as we qualified for finals in 10th place.
We woke up extremely early the next morning for the figure event, which is an individual event that lasted for three hours! Overall, as a team we did well, which gave us the confidence to step up our game for finals.
Finals kicked off with the duet (who improved their score) and was followed by free team - our best event. We massively improved our score, enough so, to beat the Netherlands who had been lying just ahead of us, so that we placed 9th overall. We were thrilled with our result as it reflected all of the hard work we had put into our training.
Our last event was combo final on the 16th of June. We were incredibly tired yet managed to do a better swim than in prelims and stay in 10th place, which was a great result. With our strong support team behind us we met our targets and showed Europe what we are made of.
Overall it was an amazing competition, one that I will never forget. It was our first ever multisport event and the atmosphere was incredible. The whole city was involved. It was really inspiring watching the different sporting events that were taking place while we were there, and seeing the world-class athletes around the village. It has definitely given us the drive to improve further and compete at more high-level competitions in the future.