TEENAGER Nicola Jackson takes the biggest plunge of her life this morning - going for gold at the Sydney Olympics.

The 16-year-old from Richmond will be carrying the hopes of her country when she dives into the pool as part of Britain's world-record-breaking 4 x 200m freestyle team.

Nicola is one of the youngest members of the British Olympic squad and had barely finished celebrating her GCSE results before flying to the other side of the world.

Her parents Gill and Barry have flown out to Australia to be with her.

Nicola holds eight British junior records and two British senior records. She was also a member of the world record-setting British freestyle relay team at Athens.

In the last 18 months she has broken various records on at least 40 different occasions.

"She's a delightful person and we are all rooting for her," said Jim Jack, her headmaster at Richmond School.

"People here are really excited for her and proud of her for what she has already achieved. She's quite shy but she's very determined."

He added: "She has no airs and graces and is very unassuming. Despite becoming more and more famous, when she's at school she's just one of the crowd and I think she appreciates that."

Also closely following events will be staff at Richmond District Council, which gave Nicola early financial support to help with her gruelling training schedule.

"She keeps breaking records so often that we have difficulty keeping up with her, but we'll be cheering her as loudly as we can," said a spokesman yesterday.

One of swimming's top coaches yesterday pleaded with the British public to ''keep the faith'' even if the team fail to win a medal.

The 41-strong squad could become the first to return home without a medal since the 1936 Games in Berlin.

While the number of world records reached double figures in four days of competition in Sydney's International Aquatic Centre, only six British records have been set.

Two of those have come from individuals with Games rookie Georgina Lee breaking the 200m butterfly record yesterday, while Paul Palmer broke his own 200m freestyle mark on Monday.

But Dave Calleja, coach to Stephen Parry, sixth in the 200m butterfly, believes British swimmers can challenge the likes of Australia and the United States, although it will take another decade.

''The British public have got to keep the faith,'' said Calleja, who coaches Parry at Stockport Metros.

''We have come a long way in the last few years, but the rest of the world is also moving on.

''We are getting more people into finals but now we have got to make the next step up and get on to the podium at the Olympics."