It’s the sixth year that we have run our poll to find swimmers the year and probably, for the men at least, the hardest to call. 2006 was probably the most successful year for Britain’s swimmers in the modern era and symptomatic of that was the number of swimmers who received votes. There could be only one winner though, so without further ado here are the results.
1. Ross Davenport
It was quite a year for the Loughborough swimmer – a surprise win in the 200m freestyle in Melbourne when he out touched his more celebrated teammate Simon Burnett was mirrored in our poll when a last gasp surge pushed him into the lead. Good though that individual win was however, his standout swim of the commonwealth games was in the men’s 4x200m relay when his final leg surge saw him overhaul the Scots in the last few strokes to claim gold. Like many of the men’s team he struggled more in Budapest but still emerged in credit with a silver relay medal to his name. The relays will provide his best chance of a medal at world level, but there’s no reason to suspect that he can’t produce a finals spot in the individual 200m.
2. Simon Burnett
The 2005 swimmer of the year winner, Simon had an up and down year, but finished overall in credit, not least for his excellent 100m freestyle gold medal at the commonwealth games, where he downed the South African duo of Neethling and Schoeman with relative ease. Add that to silver in the 200m and it was a good week’s work down under for the US based swimmer. Budapest was a little harder on the individual front, but he worked hard for the team and despite his indifferent form produced some gutsy and vital relay swims, not least the anchor of the medley relay which secured a bronze medal.
3. Chris Cook
Two Commonwealth gold medals says it all for the Newcastle swimmer, who continued to show he is Britain’s number one breaststrokers after years in the shadows. As well as that and despite having only just returned from a groin injury, he also posted two fourth places in Budapest and was a member of the medal winning medley relay. An injury free run to the World Championships should see him into the finals and from there anything is possible.
1. Kirsty Balfour
If ever there was a clear favourite in a poll like this, then it was Kirsty Balfour. By far the most successful British swimmer of 2006 and now a dominant force in European 200m breaststroke, it really was her year to break through to fully world class. A great swim, just hundredths of a second outside the European record in Melbourne, behind only the incomparable Leisel Jones, set the scene for 5 European medals short an long course. No doubt the winter will be being spent plotting with her coach Fed Vernougx on how to catch the peerless Jones in Melbourne, but the Scot is the closest thing Britain has to a shoe-in for a medal at this year’s world championships.
2. Mel Marshall
The 2004 winner is always popular when it comes to our poll and 2006 was no difference. What may have been surprising this year though was just how close she came to beating Balfour to the top spot, with only a handful of votes separating the two in the final analysis. 2006 was something of a holding pattern for Mel, who has yet to fully recapture her form of 2004, but was a successful one nonetheless with solid performance sin Melbourne which earned her medals in both 200 backstroke and freestyle, and a bronze for the dorsal event in Budapest. She also led off the victorious medley relay team in Hungary and may continue to pursue backstroke as an alternative to the freestyle in 2007.
3. Caitlin McClatchey
Last year’s winner was a distant third in our poll but also had something of a spectacular year in the pool. Few would have predicted that the young Scotswoman would have beaten the almost unbearable favourite Libby Lenton to teh Commonwealth 200m freestyle title, to which she then added a more expected gold medal in the 400m event. The 400m also provided a European Bronze medal, although she fell foul of the two per nation rule in the shorter event. the 200m remains a relatively weak event on the global stage and a return to her Commonwealth Games form in March of 2007 could see her mounting the medal rostrum once again.