Rebecca Adlington discusses the impact of trolling with Judy Murray in the latest episode of Sky Sports’ docuseries Driving Force on Tuesday night.
As a double Olympic gold medallist from Beijing 2008 and a double Olympic bronze medallist from London 2012, Adlington is Britain’s most successful swimmer.
After her two gold medals in Beijing, she was awarded an OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours list and despite retiring from swimming in 2013, she remains one of Britain’s most high-profile and well-known swimmers.
However, after enjoying great success, the swimmer had to deal with a most unpleasant side of modern-day life, and something that remains a reality for so many athletes and individuals in the public eye.
“For me, the online bullying started once I’d had success,” Adlington said during the episode of Driving Force.
“I just got hammered by the trolling and it was always about my appearance. It was always about the way that I looked.
“Nobody had ever given me a heads-up that there was going to be that, so it was just a mix of shock and not understanding it.
“I was getting so many personal messages as well, and I just thought, what have to done to you? I don’t even know you. It was very hard to deal with.
"It's not ok to say some of the things that people say on social media. It has to stop."
This is the message from Sky Sports presenters and reporters, who have united in supporting a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of online hate and abuse on social media.
“To your parents, you are their baby, you are their world and you are amazing; I can’t imagine reading something about my daughter. I would be distraught.
“It just changes you,” she said about the trolling. “I remember getting my OBE and I wore this green dress, the next day were comments saying that I was too fat to wear that dress and that I looked awful.
When it first started for me, I would tell my mum and dad or other people around me, but I quickly learnt not to. You end up keeping it in and bottling it up, because it would upset them so much and people around me would get so hurt.
“I don’t have one photo of when I got my OBE now, because I just don’t want to remember that day as it was so tarnished.
“I got so much hate for a dress that I wore, that it made me feel so bad about it. It makes me think, every time I put a dress now.
“To be honest I didn’t realise [the impact] until I’d fully retired from swimming. You’re in such a bubble in sport, when you’re in it you just live and breathe performance. I was able to bat things off a lot more because I was performance driven.
“If somebody said something, I’d swot it away and just think about a gold medal. It wasn’t until I was much older that I thought that I’d bottled so much in.
“I saw a therapist last year and it wasn’t until I sat down with somebody external, and talked to them fully, that they said they could help to adjust things. I openly say that therapy is the best decision that I’ve ever made.”
As the episode of Driving Force continues, Adlington also talks about the impact sports psychologist Simon Middlemas had on her career and her exceptional partnership she enjoyed with coach Bill Furniss OBE.
Adlington also shares her thoughts on need for young female athletes to have more support when it comes to managing personal issues including menstruation.
Plus, she speaks about her experience of retiring from swimming at the age of 23 and about the learn to swim campaign she champions for children in England.
Watch the episode of Driving Force with Rebecca Adlington on Tuesday at 9pm, live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix at 9pm. The episode will also be available on On Demand via Sky and NOW TV.
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