A “Changing of the guard” and “a new era” were two phrases being bandied about a lot in Sheffield at the GB world championship trials as 33 swimmers set qualifying marks for the Barcelona World Championships, where they will hope to emulate their predecessors of 2003.
That of those 33 only 27 were selected to compete in Barcelona was a source of much disquiet. The selection policy had been amended to make it clear that Olympic events would take priority for selection, but in the end what that actually means was that swimmer would not be selected for non-Olympic events. This approach had been widely rumoured before the meet and to some extent it was common knowledge. The whispers also suggested that new NPD Bill Furniss, in not wanting to select non-Olympic events, had been forced into reducing the team size from 35 to 30 as the only ‘legal’ way of achieving this. Of the 6 who missed out (Jack Burnell, Dan Sliwinski, Adam Peaty, Jess Thielmann, Marco Loughran and Liam Tancock), Dan Sliwinski can have particular cause to feel harshly treated, his British record in the 50m breaststroke catapulting him to a world top 10 time. Meanwhile Burnell will be in Barcelona as a matter of course when he competes in the 10km open water event he qualified for earlier in the summer.
Despite this hiccup, it’s fair to say that Furniss retains the support of the majority of swimmers and coaches and that the team will head to Barcelona in good sprits, although first they must face the challenge of extending or repeating their taper following the latest trials Britain has seen for over a decade.
But what of this supposed new era? Certainly its true that some big name swimmer show would have been expected to make the team didn’t do so; principally this means the likes of Joe Roebuck, Liam Tancock and Elizabeth Simmonds, but they were joined on the side-lines by 6 other 2012 Olympian who swam individual events in London but who will not repeat the feat in London. When you factor in retirements this represents a third of the individual swimmers in London who didn’t make the grade for Barcelona, a surprise certainly in many cases, but perhaps not a wholesale change or something that unexpected in a post-Olympic year with many of Britain’s beast settling into new coaching regimes. Indeed only 6 of the team will be making their senior international debut.
The “new era” comments were particularly audible about the men’s backstroke where Liam Tancock was beaten not once but twice by his Olympic team colleagues in Chris Walker-Hebborn and Marco Loughran in the 100m and 50m backstroke respectively. Later reported to be struggling with shoulder problems, Tancock was one of the swimmers in the 50m events to make the qualifying time and then not be selected, meaning he won’t defend his world title in the one length dorsal dash.
But well as Walker Hebborn, in particular, swam, and it was certainly a breakthrough performance for him as he carved his PB down to 53.38 moving him to 6th in the world this year, it’s too early to class this as a changing of the guard. We haven’t seen the last of Tancock, albeit that he now knows he has proper competition on a domestic level. Maybe this, combined with a summer off, will reignite the competitive fires once more.
It was also in the backstroke where we might just have seen the end of an era though as James Goddard, the only member of the 2003 team still swimming at an elite level failed to make the grade in the 200m event. The lure of Glasgow 2014 might just be enough to keep him going for another year, but it would be little surprise of the Stockport Metro swimmer called it a day after when has been a long and successful career, albeit one that has been thwarted on the world stage on numerous occasions by some of the greatest swimmer the world has ever known. Some time off was the recipe before making an calls about his future.
But to the successes of Sheffield and one name stands head and shoulders above the rest; jazz Carlin. The Welsh swimmer has had a rocky time since 2010 when she was a double medallist at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, being of the boil in Shanghai before being struck down with glandular fever I Olympic year. She bounced back in style this year though, setting world best times over 800m and 1500m (the latter eclipsed just 24 hours later by her main Barcelona rival, American Katie Ledecky) and a world class 4:04.25 over 400m. Carlin emerged from the trials as Britain’s best medal hope for Barcelona and her showdown with Ledecky should be a highlight of the competition.
Elsewhere, the emergence of 18-year-old Ben Proud and the return to form of Adam Brown were high points; the latter breaking Mark Foster’s suited 5 year old 50m freestyle record and the former erasing Foster entirely from the LC record books by breaking the 50m butterfly record. Proud will not be tempted by the glittering lights of Loughborough and will stay on at Plymouth when he finishes school to train with Jon Rudd – it has all the hallmarks of a fruitful partnership for the future.
The continued excellence of the Bath breaststroke programme was also clearly in evidence as Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willis both set world top 3 times,, despite controversy over the disqualification and eventual reinstatement of Willis in the 200m event, while Sophie Allen smashed through the 1:08 barrier in the 100m to secure her individual place. Only Kirsty Balfour has swum faster in textile and only Kate Haywood faster in poly so this result bodes well for a British medley relay team which is already strong on the other three legs. If Allen can dip below 67 off a flying start then GB becomes a podium contender on paper.
So plenty to be positive about in Sheffield and the promise of a fruitful world championships, The UK Sport target for British Swimming is 3-5 medals and the lower end of this target at least should be well within the team’s compass. They will undoubtedly shoot for more.