Scotland has a proud tradition in breaststroke, from Olympic champion David Willkie to 2003 world silver medallist Ian Edmond. It’s a tradition that continues today with Michael Jamieson, Commonwealth silver medallist in Delhi and Kris Gilchrist, who heads to the Shanghai World Championships alongside his compatriot to line up in the 100m breaststroke.
Following a Commonwealth campaign in Melbourne in 2006, Gilchrist really made his mark on the global stage by winning gold in the 200m breaststroke at the 2008 World Short Course Championships in Manchester, but unfortunately could only manage a 13th place finish in the same event in Biejing. Shortly after the Olympics, his French coach Fred Vergnoux left Edinburgh for Paris, and Gilchrist opted to move across the channel with him, but like so many expatriate swimmers the move didn’t go entirely to plan.
This led him to seek out a new training base back in the UK, a search that took him to the Bath Intensive Training Centre and coach Dave McNulty at the tail end of 2010. As with many changes, however, the move took a while to settle in. At trials in March, Gilchrist was locked out of his favourite 200m event by new Bath team mates, Jamieson and Andrew Willis, and was outside the selection time in the 100m event.
However, with a few more months’ preparation in the tank, Gilchrist returned to the fray at the ASA Nationals in Sheffield and delivered quite a statement of intent. Firstly he qualified for Shanghai in the 100m before sending out a warning to his training partners that he will be a force to be reckoned with next year by eclipsing them both in the 200m with the 5th fastest time in the world this year.
While it showed a return to his best form, it also left him wanting more; “While I was swimming I knew I was on for a good time, but to be honest I was disappointed not to dip under 2:10″ he said after his swim. “There’s only 4 people who’ve done that in the world this year so far, so if I could have done it, I would have been right in the mix for next year.”
As with all swimmers 2012 remains permanently in the forefront of his mind. Even though his Sheffield performance was too late to compete in Shanghai in what is his preferred event, Gilchrist retains a longer term perspective with London on the horizon.
“I changed clubs at the start of November and I had to do so that long before the Olympics because I knew it would take a little while to adapt and March was obviously a bit too early,” he says of his trials disappointment. “But with an extra few months to adapt to the training [in Bath] I’m posting textile best times at the age of 27 and that’s the reason I made the move. I had to do something before next year otherwise I was going to make a semi final or perhaps just scrape qualifying at all when I want to be in the mix for the medals”
“However that’s the fastest I’ve been for two years now and a lifetime best without a plastic suit, as was the 100, so I’m absolutely delighted with the progress I’ve made”
That 100m performance meant that selection was assured however, and a change in training emphasis will ensue in the final build up to Shanghai
“I rested for this meet [the ASA Nationals] because of the 100; you need quite a lot of speed for that which comes with the rest, but I didn’t really change my training. I carried on with the 200 training as that’s still my main event, but for Shanghai I’ll gear the training more towards the 100 and try and drop some more time.”
Gilchrist may have missed his best event for this year, but the opportunity to hone his racing skills and his speed in Shanghai could yet prove a silver lining in the longer race to London 2012 – if he can get there. Gilchrist is expecting next year’s trials to be almost as tough as the real thing. “With the state of British breaststroke at the moment, qualification will be almost as hard as making the final of the Olympics so if you do qualify you have a great shot of doing well”.