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'A big test of my mental character' - Kathleen Dawson on reaching Paris 2024 after back injury

Kathleen Dawson at the British Swimming Championships
Kathleen Dawson received treatment at the Intensive Rehab Unit at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre [Getty Images]

2024 Aquatics GB Swimming Championships

Dates: 2-7 April Venue: London Aquatics Centre Time: Heats from 10:00 BST; finals sessions from 19:00

Coverage: Finals sessions streamed live on BBC iPlayer & BBC Sport website and app, with daily reports on BBC Sport website

"I definitely feel that I'm a better athlete for what I've been through."

Kathleen Dawson won a relay gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but then spent three years battling with a career-threatening back injury.

The 26-year-old from Fife has now earned a spot at the Paris Games this summer after winning the 100m backstroke at the British Championships.

"I can't believe I'm going to a second Olympics," she told BBC Sport. "It's a very emotional thought.

"With the experience and knowledge I've picked up going through this rollercoaster, you can't take anything too seriously. I'm swimming up and down in a pool but it means the world to me at the same time."

The University of Stirling swimmer was part of the successful mixed 4x100m medley team in Tokyo in 2021 but was already suffering from a bulging disc, which caused sciatica.

"Straight after the Olympics my back went 'right I'm done now' and gave up on me," she explained.

"I couldn't bend over to put socks on. It was hard just getting out of bed."

Her time of 59.81 in the heats was her first time under 60 seconds since 2021 and a 59.74 in the final secured her Olympic return.

"It has been a big test of my mental character," added the British record-holder for the 50m and 100m backstroke. "There have been a lot of times I could have chucked it in.

"This was the goal I set myself for coming back, to make it to Paris.

"I enjoyed it last time because I knew our team was going to come away with a gold medal.

"Going in this time without feeling pain every day, that will definitely be a big plus."