Molly Renshaw, world champion. That’s what the Loughborough based breaststroker now is following her victory in the 200m breaststroke at the World Short Course championship last December. Speaking just before Christmas, it’s clear that her new found status came as a bit of a surprise. “It hasn’t sunk in really, even though people keep saying it. It’s an amazing feeling and it was a bit of a surprise really” she says.
It was a surprise not least because following a rest from training after the Olympics, the world short course was only on the cards as motivating factor. “I had quite a long break after Rio, so it was tough getting back in, but was easier knowing that I had something to aim for. “I’m probably not in the best shape in my life, I’m probably not as fit as I could be, but I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better.”
Not that there weren’t hopes of a decent performance given the improvements that had been banked in 2016. “I’ve got confidence in my short course, and we have been working my starts and turns hard, so I knew going into it I should be ranked pretty high, and should have made the final” says the Funkita sponsored swimmer. “But then again I hadn’t even raced before the competition, so I was kind of going into it not knowing where I was. I’d been training well, but it’s completely different when it comes to racing, so I went into it without knowing what to expect. After the hundred, I was pretty close to my PB, even though I just missed the final, but I found I was on good form so it gave me confidence going into the 200.”
That 200m final was as close as it could possibly have been, with gold secured by just one one-hundredth of a second. Not that Renshaw knew much about what was going on. “I always try to swim with blinkers on, because if I get carried away with what other people are doing I lose my stroke and I forget what I’m trying to do and the process goes out the window” she recalls.
“During the race, I was trying to focus on what I needed to do and it wasn’t really until the last turn, when I saw Chloe [Tutton] and the Canadian girl [Kelsey Wog] next to me, that I realised how close it was, so I just had to not get carried away, just stick to my stroke and just get home as fast as I could.”
With the touch at the finish secured, came the moment of realisation; a small 1 next to her name on the scoreboard. “I couldn’t believe it; I was in shock. I mean I’m really good coming in second or fourth, so to actually win something was a really good feeling!”
But the short course exploits didn’t end there, with a British Record added to the year’s achievements the following week at the English Winter Championships. “To be honest, I wasn’t really up for racing, even the day before the 200 breaststroke I was saying to my parents, I want to pull out, I want to end this season on a high.”
“I was just so tired from the travelling and the racing, it just took so much out of me, but my coach just said to me, this is one last shot, you’ve achieved more than you ever have this year, so just go out there and do what you can. There’s a lot less pressure and I just managed to race a lot better and somehow I went faster!”
Taking the short course breaststroke mark completed the set again, having reclaimed the long course record in the Olympic semi-finals, a record that came with an added sense of satisfaction. “At trials I did a little PB but I expected a lot faster based on my training and things going so well, and me and Kevin [Renshaw] had a lot of confidence, that I could go around the 2:22. So It was nice to actually be able to do that in Rio because I knew I had it in me, it was just when and where I could do it, and I did it when I wanted to.” It was as swim that propelled Renshaw into the Olympic final, the biggest stage in swimming, and an experience she will never forget. “I can’t really describe it, it’s every sportsperson’s dream, it’s the Olympics, it’s the biggest thing there is. To be in the Final with the eight best swimmers in the world is just very, very exclusive. It was amazing.”
Following on from disappointment four years ago in her quest to make it to London, did Rio match up to her hopes? “It definitely surpassed all my expectations. I had such a good time, we had such a good a team and I think made me fall back in love with the sport. I had a few rough years after 2012, when I didn’t make teams but now I have such a good group at training. Since then I have fallen back in love with it and it’s made me want to get back in more and I think that’s why I’ve started this season so well.”
This season sees a long course world championship looming in Budapest and Renshaw is keen to translate her success in the small pool into the longer event. “Before this year I’d never made a global long course semi-final, so this time I definitely want to make the final and then see what happens in that situation. If I can keep improving on my times, I’ll be up there.”
And how to go about improving her times? This year has seen significant focus on front end speed to add to a long term strength in pace over the closing stages. “I know I’ve always had a good strong back end coming home, but if I’m going to make more drops, I’ll need to go out even faster and still be able to hold my back end speed, so I think we’ll probably continue working on that and hopefully then I’ll improve my speed on the 100 as well.”
She’ll be helped by her rivalry with Chloe Tutton, who shared that Olympic final with her and came home with bronze from the World Short Course, not to mention a host of up and coming youngsters. “It’s been a while since we’ve had strong female breaststrokers, so to have the competition is good. It keeps you on your toes and you know you can never slack off.”
Slacking off has never been part of the Loughborough mantra, but there have been many changes at the National Training Centre, with James Gibson and Kevin Renshaw moving on to pastures new. There will be continuity for the Renshaw in the pool though, with Dave Hemmings moving to take over her group, working under the new head coach Mel Marshal who joins with her Olympic champion charge Adam Peaty. That opens a tantalising new opportunity. “I am sticking with Dave, but obviously we all train at the same time so it would be good to do a few drop in sessions with Mel because obviously Peaty is an absolute workhorse! I’d get some good work done with him!”
Molly Renshaw 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