20 at 20: Alys Thomas, 2018 Commonwealth Games

When Alys Thomas mounted her blocks for the final of the 200m butterfly at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as the fastest qualifier, she probably thought she had a great chance of a medal. She may even have thought she could win. What was clear from her reaction at the end of the race was that she clearly didn’t think it could be as good as it was…

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Those who swim will know the feeling when everything suddenly just clicks, when the stroke feels easy and the speed just comes. Well this was one of those moments. Thomas set off at her own pace and just kept going. And going. And going, to the extent that she left the field trailing and touched the wall in splendid isolation, nearly two seconds ahead of silver medal winning Laura Taylor of Australia.

Her time of 2:05.45 was a best time by over two seconds and it removed Jessica Schipper, a pretty handy 200 flyer, from the Games Record lists. But what made it especially memorable was the reaction at the end. Thomas surely knew she had won gold before she touched, given how far ahead she was, but swimmers always say that their eye goes to the place before the time. So having clocked the number 1 next to her name on the board then came the realisation of how special the swim was. The disbelief was clear on her face as thought processes went from “someone has swum a great time” to “it’s me!”.

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The quintessential late bloomer, Thomas had won her first senior international medal at the age of 27, and suddenly redefined herself as a swimmer. The swim left her number one in the world for 2018, ranking 8th fastest all time in textile, and provided one of the most defining moments of the Gold Coast swimming competition.

Banner image courtesy of Sharron Davies