Britain’s Olympic team converges on London this week to contest the European Championships as part of their build up to the big one in Rio this summer. Their ranks are swelled by a host of those who may hope to make their own Olympic journey four years hence, as a total squad of 42 takes to the pool.
Since the European championships switched to even years as a result of the move to biennial world championships, Britain has hardly ever been able to send a fully prepared team to the meet. Two years ago in Berlin, they came close and the British team stunned Europe with a phenomenal display which brought them 24 medals, nine of them gold, and a place at the head of the leader board. While repeating that result will be one aim this week, there are many sub-plots that add layers of intrigue to the meet for British fans.
In the big picture, there should be medals for Britain in London, albeit the team will not be at full tilt just a few weeks after trials, with eyes firmly set on August. Adam Peaty remains peerless in European waters while the likes of James Guy and Jazz Carlin will have eyes on the top spot of the podium. Good medal chances abound elsewhere in the team, and for many they will have an opportunity to test themselves against some of the world’s best: for example Hannah Miley and Aimmee Wilmott face up to Katinka Hosszu; Ben Proud takes on Florent Manaudou and Andrew Willis and Ross Murdoch go head to head with Marco Koch. Siobhan Marie O’Connor only swims the 200IM, reflecting her single minded approach to Rio, and she will take on the Iron Lady Hosszu there too.
That 200m breaststroke, presents one of the additional layers of interest for British fans. The possibility of Murdoch and Craig Benson switching events in Rio, with Benson taking on the 100m event and his Stirling teammate instead competing in the 200m remains tantalising. Both will swim both events in London and results this week may go some way to determining if that is indeed a goer.
There’s also intrigue in the events that have been given to the wildcard Olympic selections. Dan Wallace gets a swim in the 200 and 400 medleys, and he’s joined by Ieuan Lloyd in the shorter event. It would not be a surprise to see that repeated at the Olympics to give the team management maximum flexibility for the4 x 200 men’s team. Cameron Kurle, another member of that squad, lines up in the 100 and 200m freestyle this week. His fellow debutant Chloe Tutton is another to keep any eye on this week. She suddenly finds herself a top seed in the 200m breaststroke after a stellar swim at trials, behind only world record holder Rikke Moller Pedersen and Turkish sensation Viktoria Gunes. How she deals with that pressure over three rounds will be instructive.
The relays are also worth keeping an eye on. Firstly Britain has a full complement entered in London, as might be expected, but which was never certain. The Women’s 4 x 100 freestyle team does not as yet have an Olympic place so it will be interesting to see whether the team goes all out to try and bag one of the remaining four spots or if this becomes a development exercise. Based on noises emanating from Glasgow the latter possibly looks more likely and a team of, for example, Georgia Coates, Jessica Jackson, Lucy Hope and Harriet Cooper should not be ruled out, in the heats at least. The men’s equivalent do have an Olympic spot, and this meet might reveal who the coaches have in mind for it if they are going to swim. The medley teams will also break cover, giving the first insight into the selectors’ thought processes for those quartets.
Amongst the Target Tokyo picks, Tom Fannon will be worth watching out for in the the 50 free, Luke Greenbank will be looking to bounce back from an under par showing for him at trials. European Games 400IM champion Abbie Wood gets a shot in the senior equivalent and will be hoping to break through the 4:40 barrier, while Katie Matts will be looking to return to 1:07 form in the 100m breaststroke.
So an intriguing week in store in London. If nothing else, in this new world of racing more and racing often, the opportunity to race in championship conditions over heat, semis and finals, will stand the British team in good stead for Rio. But before that becomes the prime concern, there are European medals for the taking.