Back at the British Championships in April, while Siobhan Marie O’Connor and Francesca Halsall were battling it out in the final of the 100m freestyle, there was a nagging question that just kept lingering. Here we had a 200IM specialist, albeit one who is a very good freestyler, and a swimmer who had publicly stated that her focus was the 50m event, heading the best of the country by a considerable margin. Who could step up to challenge them?
The answer may just have come from the junior final that had taken place 15 minutes earlier, a race that was won by Ellesmere College’s Freya Anderson. Glasgow saw a relatively modest winning time of 56.40, but there were fireworks to come at the European Junior championships that followed as a consequence of that win. A run of times in the 55s range was bested by a superb swim of 54.72 that secured the title and catapulted the 15 year old to 3rd in the British Rankings, as the only swimmer behind O’Connor and Halsall to dip under 55s.
“It was a bit unexpected that swim at European Juniors” concedes Funkita sponsored Anderson in hindsight. “It was a 1.5s PB but it just showed that all the hard work had paid off”; hard work is banked in the 4 lane 25 m pool at Ellesmere. “It’s all been about consistency in training” says Anderson. “It has been a bit more volume this season than I was previously doing, with a lot more freestyle, and I’ve started to work more and more on my skills”.
The progression has come with the oversight of coach Alan Bircher, recognised by the BSCA as Junior Coach of the Year for his work with Anderson and his highly successful squad, and there is clearly an excellent working relationships between the pair. “I get along with him really well” says Anderson. “We really understand each other. He’s been through everything that I’m going through and he shares the mistakes that he made which really inspires us. And I can really talk to him if I need to when I am looking for advice.”
Bircher’s background of course is in the maelstrom of open water competition, as an elite 10km competitor in his day. Does that cause friction given the sprint credentials of his charge? “I don’t think he is that fond of me being a sprinter!” laughs Anderson. “He gets me to do 800s and 400s! I guess I am alright with that but it is a bit harder.” It’s useful for the 200m freestyle too, which is a further strength in the Anderson arsenal, a 2:00.26 to her name this year. “I’ve got to keep pushing the 200 and I like racing it as well. It is quite fun.”
That set of performances pushed Anderson to the British Swimming Emerging Swimmer Of The Year award at the end of year awards bash, something that she really wasn’t expecting. “I was up against Tom Derbyshire and Emily Large, and I know them really well and how good they are, so when my name was called it was bit of a shock really.” Winning an award like that pushes her into a limelight that perhaps only dedicated followers of junior swimming might have previously been aware of. Does that added scrutiny bother her? “Not really. I think I perform well under pressure so it doesn’t affect me.”
Looking ahead to 2017 there is the small matter of the world junior championships to consider, but the prospect of a place at the senior equivalent in Budapest does hover in the background. Not that Anderson and Bircher have given it much thought, with feet kept firmly on the pool deck. “We have spoken about it but I think it will be good to go to world juniors next year because more opportunities will come to the seniors for me in time.” As for her approach to the season generally, it is just as grounded. “Just getting everything right and training hard.” A fine aim indeed.
Freya Anderson is sponsored by Funkita, launched in 2004 with the same colour and flair that the boys had embraced from the Funky Trunks swimwear range. Funkita places an emphasis on creating sculpted styles and prints that not only look great but also feel comfortable to wear day after day in the water. For more information on UK retailers stocking Funkita swimwear visit: https://www.funkita.com/store-locator