It’s been called the most important domestic meet there is in Britain. And for most part it is just that as Olympic dreams will be made and shattered over the 6 days of competition in Glasgow this week. As we have come to expect, qualification will be tough, but by the end of the meet, we should know the identity of those who will race in Rio with the Union Jack emblazoned on their hats.
But only “should”, because while may will undoubtedly gain automatic selection, question marks will hang over the final team selection until Bill Furniss and Chris Spice run the rule over their wild card picks and then down the list of potential additions. The bankers though, will know they are going. For the most part those will be expected to be the swimmers who returned from worlds in Kazan last year with medals in their luggage. World champions Adam Peaty and James Guy head the queue, with Jazz Carlin, Siobhan Marie O’Connor and Ross Murdoch not far behind. You can add Hannah Miley, Aimee Willmott, Andrew Willis, Chris Walker-Hebborn and Fran Halsall to the list of expected qualifiers, being as they were under the automatic qualification standard last year.
Willis and Murdoch could though find themselves in a breaststroke battle for places, particularly in the 200 where many questions remain to be answered, but for the others selection would appear to be in their own hands, barring some big strides forward from elsewhere.
One event that has the potential for some bolters is the women’s 400IM. Wilmott and Miley are on paper set fair ahead of their challengers, but Britain boasts three very talented juniors in Abbie Wood, Georgia Coates and Rosie Rudin who between them hoovered up medals at European Games and World Juniors last year. The three youngsters are a little off the pace of their senior rivals, but the qualifying time of 4:35.46 would not be a stretch beyond the realms of possibility for any of them, so they could perhaps challenge the status quo. It would be a big move to make, but Olympic year has the tendency to inspire people in these situations – just look at the startling emergence of Penny Oleksiak at the Canadian trials. Miley and Willmott certainly cannot afford to be complacent.
For those outside the automatic qualification times, the waiting game starts. Our analysis of last year suggested that making it inside the magic 2% cut off would be enough to secure selection, but that assumes no overall progress within British swimming. From 2011 to 2012 British swimmers in the top 10 rankings improved by, on average, 1.6%. That suggests that to be comfortable only swims that are within 1.95% of the consideration times are going to be in contention for Olympic places.
Inevitably, with such a tough policy, there will be events where nobody makes the grade and Britain is not represented in Rio, accepting that in some cases the improvements noted above may push some people into the frame. The 100m individuals are boosted by the relay picks, which should allow a path to an individual swim even if that’s not achieved directly, so all four of those would be expected to have at least one entrant, given that the medley teams ride high in the percentage rankings.
Beyond those, on the men’s side, the 200m fly and 200m backstroke look vulnerable. The 200 fly has been a weaker point since the retirements of Joe Roebuck and Michael Rock, and the contenders this year start a long way off the qualification standard. Indeed of the top 4 in GB last year, only Cameron Brodie would be classed as a fly specialist, and he’ll need to chop over 2 seconds off his lifetime best to make the grade. In the 200 back, there’s more hope in the shape of Luke Greenbank who sits just a little off the 2% mark, while in 2015 Craig McNally started to show signs of the form that took him to a world final in 2013, but which has been a struggle to maintain. For both men 1:55.13 for automatic qualification looks tough, but 2% at 1:55.91 may just be achievable.
Meanwhile on the women’s side it’s the breaststroke events that could go unfilled, especially in the 100m, as the qualifying times are stiff. Over 200m Molly Renshaw will need to demolish her own British Record if she wants to secure a spot; the 2% mark should be well within her compass, but look out for the fast improving Chloe Tutton who has cut swathes from her PB this year and could be a good outside bet for a place. Over 100m, the retirement of Sophie Taylor leaves GB with no clear front runner and nobody who has ever been near the 1:06.94 2% time, let alone the 1:06.43 qualifying time. It’s one that may fall back on the relay safety net.
Relay selection offers the potential for some of the biggest selection scraps. Front and centre is the battle to get into the men’s 4 x 200 freestyle team. The squad of 6 who pulled off the stunning victory in Kazan start as favourites to fill the spots, but Stephen Milne has shown enough so far this season to suggest he could disrupt. We don’t know for sure how many will be picked, given rule changes over alternates, so the only way to be sure of a placed is to be in that top 4. It promises to be the most epic race of the week.
Milne’s main focus should be the 1500m where he’ll do battle with Dan Jervis and Jay Lelliott, but look out too for Tim Shuttleworth who has been carving time off his PB like it’s gone out of fashion this year. 2016 may just have come too soon for him, but where there’s a lane there’s a chance.
For the other relays, Bill Furniss has gone on record as saying he won’t take relay teams for the sake of it so they will need to stand up and be counted in Glasgow. The medley relay teams should go, riding high in the percentage rankings as they do, as should the women’s 4 x 200. That team has a number of girls on or around the 2 minute mark who could force their way into contention, but both the 4 x 100 freestyle teams look vulnerable. The men will benefit from already having secured their place in Rio and the clause in the selection policy which allows splits from Kazan to be taken into account. The women of course didn’t swim the event in Kazan so have neither a qualification spot for Rio assured nor splits to fall back on, apart from perhaps Halsall’s anchor from the mixed medley. So the girls will really need to make their case for inclusion. One name to keep an eye on for that team might be Plymouth’s Jessica Jackson – she’s taken over a second off her 100 free PB this year and if she continues her rapid improvement could be in that top 4 shoot-out.
Only a few days remain until the questions start to be answered. As ever it promises to be a roller coaster ride of emotion for the swimmers and should deliver a fantastic week of racing for those watching on. Let the drama commence!