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Mark Foster: I aimed for the stars and got to the moon
SPANNING 20 years and five separate Games, it is safe to say Mark Foster has more Olympic memories than most.
The Billericay-born former freestyle and butterfly swimmer competed at Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Beijing.
And, although frustrated at failing to win a medal, the 42-year-old remains rightfully proud of his achievements.
“From an early age I aimed for the stars and for me that was getting an Olympic medal in the sport,” said Foster.
“But in failing to reach the stars I hit the moon and won six World Championships gold medals, 11 European, two Commonwealths and set world records – so I can’t be too disappointed about my career just because I didn’t get an Olympic medal.”
In total, Foster won more than 50 medals during a long and illustrious career.
But he felt the Athens Games in 2004, when he just failed to qualify for the team, would have been his best chance of securing a top three finish at an Olympics.
“I was in great shape and was second in the world at the time,” said Foster, who grew up in Southend.
“However, a few weeks before the trials I injured a muscle under my arm and that meant I wasn’t fully fit.
“I was still able to win but I was seven hundredths of a second below the time the National Team Director had set and he wouldn’t take me even though I would’ve been back to my best by the time the Games came around.
“Looking back I also think I could have got a medal at Barcelona in 1992 if I had gone to college in America and I do regret not doing that.”
Foster’s first experience of the Olympics came in 1988 when he travelled to Seoul and finished ranked 22nd in the 50 metre freestyle.
He also came seventh as part of Great Britain’s 4x100m freestyle team and eighth in the 4x100m medley relay.
Four years later in Barcelona, Foster took sixth in the 50m freestyle and that proved to be his highest ever finish.
Also at those Games, he was seventh in the 4 x100m freestyle relay before ending up 16th in the 50m freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Foster bounced back from that disappointment to come seventh in Sydney 2000 and those Games remain his favourite.
“Sydney was brilliant because it was all about the sport and that’s exactly what I think the Olympics should be,” said Foster.
“Four years before that in Atlanta it had all been about Coca-Cola and other big companies and it was far too commercialised for my liking.
“Sydney got the balance right though and it was something special to be a part of.”
However, eight years later came Foster’s own personal Olympic highlight as he carried the Great Britain flag at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.
“Getting to do that just blew me away and it’s a special moment that will stay with me forever,” said Foster.
“It really was very humbling and I was so honoured to be given that privilege.
“It was certainly the best moment for me at any Olympic Games.”
In the Beijing pool, Foster came 23rd in the 50m freestyle before deciding to retire from the sport.
But he did consider making a comeback for the Games in London which begin later this month.
“I do feel I could’ve qualified, but I wouldn’t have been able to get a medal so I decided against it in the end,” said Foster.
“I would far rather a younger athlete went instead to help them with their own career and progression.”
As a result, Foster will instead be covering the swimming for the BBC and he is certain the sporting bonanza will be a huge success.
“I really do think London is going to fantastic,” said Foster.
“We saw with the Jubilee how patriotic our country is and sport is extremely popular here too so I’m certain we will put on a good show because that’s what we’re good at.”
Foster started his part in the proceedings by carrying the torch through his home-town of Southend last Friday.
And he hopes the Olympics can inspire more youngsters to get involved with sport.
“When I was younger and learning to swim at Warrior Square, Duncan Goodhew came to visit us and that’s what made me want to be a swimmer,” recalled Foster, a former Southend High School pupil.
“That’s what set me on my way and it would be great if the Olympics this year could now interest people to get fit and involved with sport.
“Carrying the torch in Southend was also a huge highlight for me because it was all about the community and that’s something else that should always be important when it comes to the Olympics.”