Rome: In 2004 German freestyle specialist Britta Steffen arrived at the Athens Olympics full of hope and expectations, but after slipping in the stands, Steffen never came close to reaching her goals.
Frustrated, she retired from active swimming soon after and concentrated on her studies.
After a break that lasted close to two years, Steffen returned to swimming and became the most successful swimmer at the 2006 European championships, picking up four gold medals and one silver.
Two years later, in Beijing, Steffen managed to lay the ghost of Athens to rest, when she won the 100m and 50m freestyle Olympic gold medal.
The one thing that is still missing in her medals' collection is a gold from the world championships and that is something that the 25-year-old is hoping to change at the 13th world championships that are taking place in the Italian capital Rome from July 17 to August 2.
Much of her success is credited to a new-found mental strength, which she developed after working closely with a mental-trainer.
"I think that has given me the strength not to have to win," says Steffen, who admits that previously she defined herself in terms of swimming.
After swimming to her first gold medal in Beijing last year, she did not look at the electronic timing boards. "I thought that if I did not win gold, it was not so bad as I tried my best."
Steffen says she is saddened by the fact that today's swimming is dominated by the importance of performance-improving costumes. "I am saddened that these make technique less important.
"I believe in youth swimming they should not be allowed. However, having said that, the invention of the car has also resulted in people walking less. We can lament that fact, but we can't change it."
The swimmer, who was born in the town of Schwedt in Brandenburg near the Polish border, told the German press agency (DPA) that even though she had achieved so much, she still enjoyed swimming. "If it was only stress, I would no longer compete.
"I still enjoy swimming and this has only increased after Beijing. Having nothing to prove anymore is also a terrific motivation. I think the time without competitive swimming in my life is still a far way away."
She said that she had no intention of quitting the sport if she managed to pick up a gold medal in Rome. "There is always a new motivation.”
"The 2012 Olympics in London sound like something I could go for, especially as my parents have said they would watch me if I start there.”
"They have never been to an international meet and for that I think it would be worth it to compete in London."
She arrived in Rome brimming with confidence, after breaking Libby Trickett's 100m freestyle record in the heats at the German championships in Berlin at the end of June.
Just two days later in the finals she managed to better her own time - taking the record to 52.56 seconds.
Steffen is now hoping that she can pick up that elusive world championship gold medal, but goes into her swims knowing that she will put herself under no pressure to do well.
First Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009, 15:11