Michael Phelps banishing his London 2012 demons in Rio is fuelling George Barber’s Olympic dream. Humberston star George has vivid memories of watching 28-time Olympic medallist Phelps get pipped to the 200m butterfly title by South Africa’s Chad le Clos nine years ago.
But the most decorated Olympian of all-time bounced back in style in the Brazilian water to reclaim his crown. George, who specialises in the 200m butterfly and 400m freestyle, harbours Olympic aspirations himself and with little under 200 days to go until Tokyo, says memories of watching the Games are helping him follow in Phelps’ glittering footsteps.
“I remember the 200m butterfly at London 2012,” said the 19-year-old, who is financially supported by Entain and SportsAid through the Pitching In initiative.
“Michael lost to Chad le Clos and literally just got touched out [on the wall]. But I remember then watching the 2016 Olympics in Rio and seeing Michael come back and win again in his fourth Olympic Games, or something ridiculous.
“To win that title back off Chad was just so inspirational and such a strong memory for me. He’s by far the best swimmer ever. His record stands for itself and some of his performances were mesmerising.
“That would be incredible [to follow in his footsteps]. I’m optimistic, so I hope I could reach that sort of level one day. But even just to make a team or be in the question, I’m super happy with where I’ve got. For a young lad, from a really small town in the middle of nowhere, I think it’s pretty cool that I’ve got this far.”
Entain announced a three-year partnership with SportsAid in 2019 to help talented young athletes, just like George, who trains at City of Sheffield Swim Squad, realise their potential and pursue their sporting ambitions.
The Pitching In investment promotes grassroots sport and also provides vital funding for training, travel, equipment and access to mentoring from Olympians and Paralympians.
George returned home to his family in Humberston during the November lockdown and hit the training hard as he pumped iron and worked out in his home gym.
But he’s now back training at Sheffield’s cutting-edge Ponds Forge International Sports Centre alongside new coach Mike Taylor.
The Sheffield Hallam student admits his humble Lincolnshire background would make reaching the top more special and hopes using the Commonwealth Games as a springboard can catapult him to Paris 2024.
“I don’t think there are more than about 5,000 people in Humberston, so to come from that compared to how far I’ve got now is incredible,” added George, who is following the same SportsAid pathway as Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Mo Farah and Dina Asher-Smith.
“I just hope I can keep going and would probably say 2024 [is the target].
“I want to aim towards the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and give myself the best possible opportunity to qualify for that. From there, I’ll sit down with the coaching team and see where we can go from there.”
Entain, owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, is proud to be championing the next generation of British sporting heroes by providing talented young athletes with financial support and personal development opportunities in partnership with SportsAid. As part of this three-year partnership, Entain are supporting a diverse group 50 of UK athletes per year from a variety of spots and para-sports. Visit entaingroup.com to find out more.