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Making Giant Strokes

• Posted in Swimming • By JoeBaker

This is a pretty exciting time to be a swimmer representing Great Britain. It is often said that the true measure of a team of athletes comes from their performances at a major event. Well, this current group of talented swimmers have just amassed Great Britain’s greatest ever medal haul for a World Championships. The week-long event may have taken place in the heartland of Russia in the city of Kazan but the record 9 medals won by the swimmers from these Isles mean that it had a distinctly British feel to it.

Their achievement in finishing 4th in the final medals table with five gold, one silver and 3 bronze is thrown into sharp relief when you consider that at the previous Championships, in Barcelona, Great Britain won just the one medal. Or when you hear head coach Ben Furniss admitting that the team's performance in Russia went ‘better than planned’. The bar had been set high after efforts at the 2014 European Championships and, for their respective home nations, at the Commonwealth Games. If there were questions about whether such form could be replicated at an Olympics or a World Championships, they have been answered with a resounding yes.

The standout performance came from an individual who is quickly taking greater and greater prominence amongst our national sporting conciseness. Adam Peaty is fast being labelled as a future superstar. After his efforts in Russia, where he won three gold medals, many will claim that he already is one. Some falter and become overwhelmed by enormous expectation at global sporting events, yet Peaty’s 20 year-old shoulders did not even come close to buckling. He was the dominant male swimmer, winning gold in the 50m and 100m breaststroke before providing a stunning breaststroke leg to help Britain win gold in the mixed medley relay. By doing so he became Britain’s first triple World Champion swimmer. Under a year and a half ago he was merely another Commonwealth Games hopeful, now he is the outright favourite for the 100m breaststroke Olympic title. Indeed it was the defending Olympic champion in that event, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh, who he pipped at the finish in both his individual events. Earlier this year Peaty also smashed the 100m record at the British trials, becoming the first man to drop below 58 seconds. The term ‘superstar’ does not sound particularly premature after all.

Yet Peaty’s endeavours were just part of a wider collective performance. A world freestyle 200m title was secured by James Guy, in additional to his 400m freestyle silver. He also anchored the fantastic four that clinched another gold for Great Britain in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Further superb performances were given by Ross Murdoch and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, who both left Russia with a Bronze medal in hand from the 100m breaststroke and the 200m individual medley respectively. Meanwhile Jazz Carlin, who came here ranked in the top three in the 400m and 800m after a successful 2014 where she claimed European and Commonwealth titles, followed the lead of many of her teammates by delivering on this grand stage, winning bronze in the 800m freestyle.

What made each assault Britain took upon the medals table even more impressive were the records that frequently came hand in hand with them. Following these Championships Adam Peaty now holds two world records to go alongside his three gold medals, one of them acquired with Britain’s imperious 4x100m mixed medley relay squad, while Dan Wallace, Robbie Renwick, Calum Jarvis and James Guy set a new British record when beating the favorites Australia and the USA to the 4x200m freestyle title – this also happened to be Great Britain’s first ever World Championship men’s relay title. Moreover, Guy’s 200m win made him the first man from these shores to secure a World Championship freestyle title. Although the men’s 4x100 medley just missed out on bronze they still took 0.01 seconds off the previous British record. Winning at major events is one thing but putting in such superb performances, when the pressure and the nerves are at their highest, is truly exceptional.

It could have been even better. You cannot win them all but Great Britain gave it one hell of an effort. Dan Wallace just missed out on the podium by finishing 4th in the 200m Individual Medley final, as did both the men's and women's 4x100m medley relay teams, the male quartet just 0.17s short of giving Britain a fairytale ending on the final day. In the 400m individual medley Hannah Miley also found herself agonisingly close to the podium in 4th. Spare a thought in particular for Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Andrew Willis who, despite putting in his fastest time since the London 2012 Olympics, was merely half a second short of third and thus just missed out on a Bronze medal for a second consecutive World Championships. Jazz Carlin very nearly found herself up on the podium for a second time when she came 4th in the 400m freestyle.

Nevertheless, it became a common sight seeing beaming British athletes standing upon the podium, medals hanging proudly around their necks. Could they begin to exert the same dominance upon their sport that Britain’s cyclists have over the past decade? The talent and potential is undoubtedly there. This current crop exceeded the exploits of past record-breaking teams from Barcelona in 2003 and Cali in 1975. At the last Championships they ended up joint bottom. Two years later, they ended up behind only the superpowers of China, Australia and overall table-toppers the USA. With the start of 2016 Olympics now less than a year away, this rise to prominence could not have been better timed. This British swimming team are not far away from mounting a serious challenge in Rio. Simply put by Head Coach Bill Furniss, ‘We’ll just try and do what we’re doing at the moment, only a little bit better.’

 

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