Tokyo-bound swimmer Alys Thomas remembers the precise moment she decided she was going to become an Olympian.
The 30-year-old was a 'water baby' from the first splash - her mum claims she swam a stroke by 18 months - but the real epiphany happened much later.
Thomas, who grew up in London but trains in her dad's native Wales, was 13 during the 2004 Games. To the awed teen, the Athens podium was not just a set of steps—it was Mount Olympus.
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"I was fascinated because they had the olive leaf crowns on their heads," recalled Thomas, who is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo.
"And I just remember thinking, 'those are real life heroes.' To me anyway, sporting heroes.
"They literally look like Greek gods because they've got the crowns on their heads and the medal ceremonies and I was fascinated by it.
"And I just remember thinking, 'that's what I want to be.'
"That's the pinnacle to me. That is the top of what I am doing, because I was full in the sport by that point.
"It was like a switch in my head, like, if I really apply myself now, as a young teenager, I could do this. I could be there. I could have an olive crown on my head."
Finally—17 years later—she has that chance.
Butterfly specialist Thomas joined Kingston Royals Swimming Club at the age of five. As part of the trialling process, the club hopefuls were asked to do 25 of each stroke.
Thomas said: "Most of the kids couldn't do fly but I could.
"I was scared to say 'I'll do the fly one' but another girl knew I could do fly, and she told me to do it.
"And I did it and everybody was like, 'Oh my god, there's a five-year-old doing fly!'"
Thomas' maiden international competition was at the 2010 Commonwealth Games before she then went on to place fourth in the 200m butterfly and ninth in the 100m contest in Glasgow four years later.
Two years later, the swimmer dominated at the British championships in the same city, claiming the title in the 100m butterfly and coming runner-up in the 200m.
Still, 2016 was not Thomas' favourite year—despite her success at nationals, she was not selected to the Rio Olympic squad.
Thomas' coach Stuart McNarry is quick to cite "perseverance" as one of his charge's top three traits.
By 2018, that determination had paid dividends in performance, with a gold medal for Wales in the 200m butterfly at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
And a year later, the swimmer raced to double national titles in the 200m and 100m events, also finishing fifth in the 200m at worlds.
With momentum at long last on her side, Thomas placed herself in clear contention for a ticket to Japan with a 2:08.09 first-place finish in the 200m at the British Tokyo 2020 trials in April.
And with selection letter firmly in hand, she is now relishing the opportunity to—finally—represent Team GB.
Thomas said: "I'm hell bent on enjoying every second of it. I feel like I've been waiting a very long time."
Alys Thomas is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, with the same amazing home support as London 2012. Visit @PurplebricksUK or https://www.purplebricks.co.uk/team-gb
Eight Olympic champions in British squad for FINA World Aquatics Championships
Eight Olympic champions named in British squad for FINA World Aquatics Championships
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