By the time Melbourne came around, I had gained a lot more international experience, but had been disappointed with my swims at the 2005 World Championships and was eager to redeem myself in 2006. A key part of this was to retain my Commonwealth titles. The Games were scheduled relatively early in the calendar, in March, so I had less race preparation to evaluate my winter training on. Still, it was the same for everyone, and I was looking forward to racing in Australia again given their love of swimming in general. The pool felt fast, and as a venue it was light and airy, with a roof but open at the sides for the stands. I felt the full effects of this when a flying pigeon decided to make a ‘lucky’ deposit on me as I got out of the warm up one day…
My 800 heat didn’t feel as ‘easy’ as I wanted it to, and this worried me slightly, but I consoled myself with the fact that I had worn a training suit and had over a day left to rest up before the final. It had been mentioned to me by a few journalists in the lead up to the meet that no female had ever made a successful defence of the 800 crown at Commonwealths before, and this strengthened my resolve but also reminded me how hard training for an 800 is!! I was pretty nervous before the final, and even during the race was not convinced I had the speed I might need if it came to a sprint finish. As the race went on, though, I felt more comfortable, and was delighted to touch first in 8.29. The time was immaterial, and I was completely overjoyed at winning my third Commonwealth title.
It was a mixture of pride and also relief that I had managed to perform despite my anxieties about form and a disappointing 2005. I received my medal from Ian Thorpe, which was a nice touch by the organisers. It sounds strange, but I had asked my visiting family to stay away from the 800 final, not because they added any pressure, but because I knew that if they were in the crowd, I would want to know where they were sitting, and if they had arrived OK, and I didn’t want that distraction. So my Mum, Dad, and one of my sisters were in a bar in Sydney watching my race, and I later heard that they managed to get some free drinks off the back of my win!
After my 800 I felt much more relaxed, and could really enjoy the rest of the meet. There were some great upsets from the home nations, particularly in the men’s events; the Men’s 4 x200 being a memorable highlight with England and Scotland touching Australia into 3rd place. I made the 400 Free final but wasn’t able to feature strongly, finishing 7th overall. I was disappointed with that swim but still buzzing from my 800 a few days earlier, so it did not dampen my mood, and it was nice that Caitlin McClatchey got the win to retain the Commonwealth crown within Britain. That is one of the strengths the home nations have at the Commonwealths, in that as a collective it generates a greater force to take on the swimming might of Australia.
My last event was the 400IM, which I was very much looking forward to. I still regarded it as a ‘side event’ for me, but had incorporated a reasonable amount of medley into my training that year to break up the distance work, and thought I could contend for a medal. I really enjoyed the final, and snatched silver behind Stephanie Rice after working my way up the field in the latter stages of the race. I later heard that someone had described my medley as ‘three dodgy strokes and a freestyle leg’ which made me laugh and was also probably true! Collecting my silver medal in front of a Australian crowd to the tune of ‘Land down under’ was a great end to the Games and I even managed to spot my family in the crowd as we walked on our victory lap around poolside (I had let them attend the 400 IM!).