Britain has a fine Olympic pedigree when it comes to men’s breaststroke, with medal winning performances over the years from such swimmers as Wilkie, Goodhew, Moorhouse and Gillingham, but it’s 20 years since a British breaststroker mounted the Olympic podium. The crop of 2012, then, have quite a legacy to live up to but there are a number of swimmers vying for the chance to break that 20 year lean streak. Both the 100m and 200m events could go many ways with little to choose between many of the contenders.
The 200m event is perhaps the harder to call of the two given results in 2011. At the World Champhionships, Britain was represented by Michael Jamieson, who finished fifth, and Andrew Willis, who was seventh. Neither was the fastest Brit of the year though, with Kris Gilchrist’s performance at the ASA nationals bettering both of them.
There was little to choose between them in 2011 though with only 0.33s from fastest to slowest. Gilchrist has the edge both from last year but also in lifetime best, with his PB of 2:09.01, although that swim was suit-aided. Jamieson and Willis both set their PB’s in 2011.
All three train together at Bath ITC so each will know how the others are progressing, but they will need to be careful not to ignore the challenge from Swansea ITC, which is the training base of Richard Webb. Webb swam the 200m breaststroke at the 2009 world championships but had something of a disappointing 2011, only managing a time almost 3 seconds slower than his best. That led to a switch to train with Bud McAllister in Swansea, but we have yet to see the fruits of that change in 2012. On his best form Webb could upset the Bath trio and claim an Olympic place.
Whoever does claim the Olympic spots, though, will need to drop time to be competitive. While Jamieson was 5th in a 2:10.40 last year, any serious thoughts of podium places will need a time closer to 2:09 and probably under. The competition domestically might just spur the top two down towards that level.
Meanwhile the 100m event is no less difficult to call but has the intriguing twist that the swimmer leading the selection race so far this year has not featured on the international scene for almost 2 years.
It’s been a difficult period since the Delhi Commonwealth Games for Dan Sliwinski, the current British Record holder in a suit-powered 59.55 – a performance registered when he was still a junior back in 2009. Sliwinski failed to make the world championship team in 2011 but a recent change of training base to the Stockport ITC seems to have reawakened his talent. He leads the GB rankings so far this year in 1:00.75, which significantly, is faster than any of his selection rivals managed in 2011.
Those rivals are predominantly the 200m specialists who may not have the raw speed necessary in the shorter event. Certainly none of them managed to get under the FINA A time of 1:00.79 in 2011 and the British qualifying standard is faster still at 1:00.50. In that context, an on form Sliwinski should stand the best chance of securing an Olympic spot.
Another who could feature is 2011 World Youth champion Craig Benson – he posted a time of 1:01.34 to win that title, but has the potential to drop further. Like Sliwinksi he’s more of a 100m specialist so may fancy his chances of toppling his Scottish rivals.
Like the 200m though, there is some way to go for those selected; neither Jamieson or Gilchrist made it through to the world final last year and it’s likely that the British Record will need to go for a podium placing to be a realistic proposition.