The Big Interview: Leeds-based Georgia Coates will be Great Britain's youngest swimmer at the Rio Olympics this summer
LEEDS swimmer Georgia Coates was in pretty deep when juggling education and sporting goals last summer.
Representation at the Junior World Championships in Singapore clashed with taking 12 GCSEs but the teenager passed both with flying colours.
So much so that the 17-year-old is now preparing to juggle AS Levels with being Great Britain’s youngest swimmer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Prince Henry’s Grammar School pupil Coates is still coming to terms with being named as one of 26 swimmers to represent the country in South America.
For all that Coates has taken the sport’s junior scene by storm, all those associated with the teenager assumed that Tokyo 2020 would present the Headingley athlete’s first opportunity to shine on an Olympic stage.
But a superb performance at last month’s British National Championships has further fast-tracked the progression of a swimmer who has been selected to compete in the 4x200m relay after finishing third and crucially in the first four in the 200m freestyle final, in company with Bath’s Jazmin Carlin, Sheffield’s Ellie Faulkner and Glasgow’s Camilla Hattersley. Carlin, Faulkner and Hattersley are aged 25, 23 and 21 respectively, and are set to be joined by a young sensation still doing her schoolwork and for whom an Olympic call has yet to sink in.
“I just can’t believe it,” Coates told the YEP. “I knew that I could maybe get in but I was just going in and seeing what I could do. I knew that the four by two would be a chance for me and I got into the final first.
“I knew that they were all going to go fast so I just had to try and stay with them and, going through, I just couldn’t believe it. My family couldn’t believe it because they thought that if I had a chance it would be more 2020 and all of my friends, I still don’t think they really understand. They are like ‘how have you got there?!’ because I am quite young still.
“Everyone has been so supportive and nice about it. I’ve been able to get medals at junior level but I never thought like two years ago I would be going to the Olympics. I would never, ever have thought that. I have improved quite a lot in this last year but I never thought that would happen, that I would get the chance to even try and get there.”
Now, with her place on the plane secured, it is Coates’ family members scrambling for their place to get there.
If all goes to plan, the youngster will be roared on by mum Jude and dad John, plus London-based aunty Nell and uncle Richard as well as cousins Essie and Ivy.
Older brother Jim might also be able to join the fray given that he will be based in America at the time whilst Coates’ half-sister Jodie and her husband are also contemplating flying to Brazil from their home in New Zealand. The athlete is thrilled not just with her own development but the progress of the City of Leeds Swimming Club as a whole.
Under the eye of head coach Rich Denigan, the club train alongside the City of Leeds Diving Club who have sent a plethora of divers to recent Olympics’. Now the swimmers are threatening to follow suit with Coates the club’s first Olympian since Gavin Meadows represented his country at Athens 2004.
Claire Huddart was the last female to represent the Leeds club at the Olympics at Sydney 2000 but Sophie Taylor bagged a gold and silver at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealths. Lalya Black, Ciara Schlosshan and Amelia Clynes are also all heading to this summer’s European Juniors.
Coates beamed: “The divers have always had so many people going to the internationals and we’ve had less so it’s nice to have people coming through in the swimming because it’s always been the diving.
“People haven’t said about comparing me to Sophie but they have said it’s nice that more people are coming through to international level. It’s amazing and to have three people going to the European Juniors is great because it just seems like we are going from strength to strength.
“A lot of juniors are coming through and we have got a lot of juniors like Amelia Clynes and Layla who have done two years already at junior level. It’s great to see we are getting better.”
Reflecting on her own new-found fame, Coates laughed: “After my race I went on Look North but I hadn’t found out that I was going to the Olympics then. They were just saying that I might have a chance.
“Then after I had been chosen they came into the pool so I was on Look North. I’ve had quite a bit but I am just sort of taking it as it goes. It’s a lot more than I am used to but it’s nice to have people interested in me!”
And deservedly so with Coates heading to Rio on merit, backed by a sensational last year in the junior sphere. The teenager took a silver and bronze at last summer’s Junior Worlds as part of a year that also featured a haul of five medals at the European Games.
But now the senior ranks await Coates and the forthcoming European Championships in London will be, quite literally, an opportunity to test the waters ahead of her Olympics debut. At the moment, Coates has no target for Rio as the teenager has no clue as to what to expect.
The swimmer reasoned: “I haven’t really had the chance to think about it. Suddenly I have got there and that was my first thing to think about. Obviously I am just going to see what I can do.
“I have never competed like this at a senior level so I don’t know how fast it’s going to be. I am just going to go in there and see what I can do.
“You never know but I have no idea what I can do. I have only ever competed at junior level which is completely different.
“Next I have got the European Championships where I think I am doing 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 free, four by two relay and 200m breaststroke. Then I have got the Mare Nostrum in Barcelona and then the Scottish Nationals and then it will be going to the Olympics. It’s all seniors coming up now. We’re not resting for the Olympics, we are swimming straight through to get us race-ready and get us used to racing a lot. I don’t really know what the competition will be like or what the chances are. I’ll just have to see what happens really.”
What’s certain though, is that once again this year’s swimming exploits will sit hand in hand with rather different tests in the exam hall with Coates set to sit one of her AS level exams in London whilst at the British Championships. Mind, that will be a piece of cake for the swimmer who sat one of her GCSEs in Baku. Incredibly, the talented youngster sat 12 GCSEs and bagged three A Stars, six As and 2 Bs.
Coates pondered: “It is hard and at the European Championships I am going to do one of my exams down there in London. That’s going to be quite hard but I am just going to take it as it goes because swimming is something I am doing now. School can always come later if it doesn’t quite work out!”