Over the past weekend, across the globe at meets from Sheffield to Melbourne, Flanders to Austin, Britain’s swimmers broke cover to compete for the first time in 2012. The series of early season swims gives observers the opportunity to assess the form book ahead of Olympic trials, which start in less than 7 weeks, and to start considering the selection battles to come in March.
On balance the weekend belonged to the fly ladies; Ellen Gandy won the 100m butterfly at the Victoria State Championships in Melbourne in a fast time of 57.96 while over at the Austin Grand Prix in Texas, Jemma Lowe was only just touched out by world Champion Dana Vollmer in a solid 58.18. Gandy couldn’t repeat the win in the 200m though, being beaten by fellow Brit Jess Dickons in 2:09.50. Lowe was faster still in the longer event recording 2:07.39. Add Fran Halsall to the 100m mix and the fly events look tough to call at trials.
Halsall only swam the 50 fly in Sheffield where she posted 25.84 but was also seen recording 54.29 over 100m freestyle. That’s an encouraging swim, faster than she managed at trials last year.
In Flanders there were signs of a return to form for British record holder Dan Sliwinski who posted an encouraging 1:00.75 for the 100m breaststroke. That was faster than Michael Jamieson managed in Melbourne, although the Scot has bigger hopes for the 200m event. He did however profess himself disappointed with his time of 2:12.15.Andrew Willis was a touch behind Jamieson in both events, while over in Austin another of the 200m hopefuls Richard Webb posted times of 2:13.51 and 1:02.56, so on paper has a little ground to make up on his Bath rivals.
Swansea teammates Jazz Carlin and Georgia Davies also put up strong early season performances in Texas. Carlin’s 400m freestyle time of 4:07.89 was the highlight of her weekend; her 200m performance of 2:01.42 indicative of a heavy training load and more speed work to come between now and March. There was a better showing over 200m from Caitlin McClatchey in Sheffield who recorded a swift 1:58.34 and looked to be coming back to her best form.
Davies meanwhile showed her pace is coming along nicely with a 1:00.75 showing in the 100m backstroke, putting her almost 3 seconds ahead of world record holder Gemma Spofforth, who looks to be in heavy training still. Expect more from her at trials where Lizzie Simmonds will also join the battle; Simmonds posted a 200m time of 2:10.51 in Sheffield, faster than both her rivals could manage but not as fast as Georgia Hohmann managed in Flanders. The teenager posted a strong 2:09.71 to mark herself out as an outside bet at trials.
Siobhan Marie O’Connor continued her development in Melbourne racing to second over 200IM behind Alicia Coutts in 2:15.08 – Hannah Miley’s place as GB number one might still be secure but there is an Olympic place up for grabs behind her. O’Connor will have to battle two other impressive youngsters for that spot though; Sophie Allen in 2:13.23 and Aimee Wilmott in 2:14.26 were both faster in Flanders.
Also taking encouragement from the weekend’s events will be Kate Haywood. After a turbulent 2011 for her, she posted 1:08.81 for the 100m breaststroke, a time faster than she managed on the whole of last year. A fully fit and on form Haywood would be a huge boost to the GB medley relay team so it’s to be hoped her resurgence continues.
Finally, back in Flanders, Michael Rock continued his quiet return to top form, winning the 200m fly in 1:58.16, while there was a tantalising hint that open water queen Kerrie-Anne Payne might yet have a crack at securing a pool spot over 800m freestyle as she posted a time of 8:38.58.
There are still 7 weeks until trials, and a lot of metres to be covered, but the battle lines have been drawn this weekend. If it was ever in doubt, it’s now clearer than ever that the competition for Olympic places will be fierce.