Paws from the pool for golden girl Coutts
Olympic champion Alicia Coutts cleans out a cat cage at the RSPCA yesterday. Photo: Colleen Petch
Cleaning up cat litter is about as far removed from standing on the Olympic Games medal dais as you could possibly get.
Yet there is Alicia Coutts, Australia's golden girl of the pool, getting her hands dirty and back among her favourite felines at the Canberra RSPCA.
Coutts yesterday returned to her part-time job at the animal welfare shelter in Weston for the first time since she was this country's most successful swimmer in London.
The 24-year-old's haul put her in elite company alongside Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould as the only Australians to win five medals at a single Games.
She is newly engaged and has arrived back in the capital refreshed after her first break from the sport in four years. While elated with her Olympic Games results, Coutts said she had seamlessly slotted back into everyday life.
''I've been asked, 'Have you come back down from the clouds?' and I was like, 'I never really left the ground','' she said.
''Some people say it's really depressing coming back but I don't feel that way. I did what I needed to do and it's back to business.''
The AIS scholarship-holder left London with a gold medal in the women's 4x100-metre freestyle relay, three silvers (200m individual medley, 4x200m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay) and a bronze in the 100m butterfly.
Physically and mentally exhausted, Coutts embarked on a post-Olympics holiday in Bali, admitting it felt ''strange'' just to go for a swim in the hotel pool.
It was the first time she had been overseas for anything other than a swimming competition.
Coutts has resumed training at the AIS but the more pressing matter is planning her wedding after long-term boyfriend Steve Hardy popped the question outside the Olympic village. ''We went to dinner to Gordon Ramsay's Petrus restaurant in London and I had been to this garden party before and I had to take all my medals with me,'' she said.
''I had them with me in my backpack and Steve said, 'I don't want you going back by yourself because someone might rob you and take your medals'.
''So he came back on the train with me to the village and walked me just outside the gate and he asked me. I didn't expect it at all.''
No date has been set but one thing is clear - they won't be using the services of television show Don't Tell the Bride, where the groom is responsible from start to finish.
''Steve actually suggested it to me and I said, 'No way in hell','' Coutts laughed.
''I've got my little scrapbook with colour schemes and things. It's all really exciting.''