Alice Dearing ready to right Olympic wrongs after Tokyo experience

Alice Dearing is a trailblazer and a history-maker, but she also has a competitive spirit that will not rest until she rights some Olympic wrongs.  

At last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Dearing made history when she became the first black British female swimmer to compete for Team GB.  

She did so in the open water event in the Japanese capital but was well off her best in the gruelling 10km race, finishing 19th.  

For Dearing, now 25, it was a strange sensation to be congratulated for her historic achievement while all she could focus on was underachieving.  

“I was obviously very disappointed in myself and my performance,” she said.  

“I got out and had all these nice messages saying, ‘You did so well’ and I was thinking ‘Guys, I did terribly, let’s be honest’. People told me that’s not the point, and I get it but I’m an athlete, a competitor and that side is always going to be there. But it was incredible to help be a part of history and hopefully help showcase that this is for everybody. I’ve had a very positive journey through swimming. I want to make sure that other children coming up have those same experiences.  

“Tokyo was amazing though; I think about it every day and I’m so driven for Paris. Hopefully, I can get a second chance and right my wrongs. I want to prove to myself that I deserve to be there. Obviously, I deserved to be there because I qualified but I was just so disappointed with my performance. I want to right that wrong.”  

Dearing is among more than 1,000 elite athletes funded by The National Lottery through UK Sport’s World Class Programme. The programme allows athletes such as her to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science, and medical support. 

The aftermath of Tokyo has not been easy for Dearing, who had hoped to compete at the Commonwealth Games on her doorstep in Birmingham earlier this year.  

Switching from open water to the pool was always going to be tricky, but even so, Dearing was surprised at how tough she found the transition – missing out at the British Championships.  

It made her take a step back and reassess, realising that she needed to change her approach if she were to compete in Paris in two years’ time.  

She explained: “From start of May to September this year, I took a break. It was great, I absolutely loved it. I was really struggling in the sport beforehand. I had a bad British Champs, I ended up pulling out of most of my events because I was ill, I swam poorly. I tried to get back into training after that, but I couldn’t find the love for it.   

“There was a World Championships and European Championships that I was going to train for, and my motivation was just at zero. Mentally I didn’t want to be there, I had kind of checked out.   

“My coach (Andi Manley) suggested taking a break because I knew I didn’t want to retire but the mountain I had to climb to get to Paris had clouds above it and everything above it and I couldn’t see the top.   

“He suggested taking a break and it was a tough couple of days where I was toying with the idea and then I finally decided I needed to do it for myself. Whatever happened, happened but at least I was putting myself first. I had an amazing time; it was so good. I did everything that I have put off because of swimming. I ended up being so busy, in a really good way.”  

In her time off, Dearing has continued to advocate for greater awareness of water safety education in African, Caribbean, and Asian communities as a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association.  

The National Lottery supported organisation was this week announced as the 2022 National Lottery UK Project of the Year, beating off stiff competition from more than 1300 organisations.  

Regardless of what happens in her swimming career, Dearing will remain committed to making swimming a more diverse and accessible sport.  

But after two and a half months back in the water, her own focus now is back on making sure she is ready for Paris – with opportunities to qualify coming up in 2023 and February 2024 at the World Aquatics Championships.  

Alice Dearing is an ambassador for the Black Swimming Association which looks to make people across diverse communities more aware of water safety.

And she admits, the return to the water has been tough.  

She added: “I’m currently in my tenth week of training now, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t think it would be this hard.   

“It’s not saying that I regret what I did it. I’d do it over again, I’d never change my decision, but it’s been so hard, both mentally and physically.  

“Now I’m having to re-learn certain things to get my strength back. I’m getting there, it’s been a journey but I’m seeing the light now. I’m looking towards the British Champs, hopefully the World Champs in July and then another World Championships in February which are most likely where I’ll hopefully qualify for the Olympics and then Paris.   

“It’s going to come so fast. As much as it’s difficult and sometimes I’ve been struggling with it, I’m just enjoying it as much as I can because it will be over one day, and it will be in a blink of an eye.” 

No-one does more to support our athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. For more information about The National Lottery Awards, visit and follow the campaign on Twitter @LottoGoodCauses #NLAwards. 

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