Britain’s swimmers may be split up into their constituent nations on their way to Delhi, but in general terms the teams roll into the Commonwealth games brimming with confidence following a successful showing at the European Championships earlier this summer.
As those who followed the team’s fortunes in Budapest no doubt heard on many occasions, that meet was a stepping stone, a way marker, to the main event for the year which takes place in Delhi next week. Hence most of the British team have an eye on the sub-continent while racing in Hungary, with tapers postponed or cut short to maximise performance when funding is up for grabs.
Some may be forgiven for thinking that such statements would heap additional pressure on swimmers, particularly those who swam well and came home with medals, or best times with the expectation that they should do even better at their targeted meet. If that is the case, the swimmers have not been showing it and have been going about their preparations with an impressive single-mindedness.
For most of the team, the challenge they face in Delhi may not come in as much depth as perhaps it did in Budapest. On paper, the Australian tem is going through something of a lull by its own extremely high standards, which opens up a number of events. Combined with a British contingent swollen by the opportunity to compete as individual nations and the prospect of significant home success is raised. It also throws up several intriguing sub plots.
Chief amongst those, at least for the causal swimming fan will be the performances of Rebecca Adlington, particularly following her emotional response to the 800m final in Budapest. Having bounced back form the at disappointment to win the 400m final, in the second fastest time in the world this year, she moves into the Commonwealths at the head of both the 400m and 800m rankings and indeed with significant margins over her Commonwealth rivals. For the shorter event, the main challenges will come from close to home in the shape of Jo Jackson, Jaz Carlin and defending champion Caitlin McClatchey, with Bronte Barrat of Autalria also in the mix, but for the longer race, Adlington should be peerless in this company. What will be more intriguing will be her time; while her 8:14 world record is probably out of reach at the moment a time sub-8:20 would demonstrate a return to form approaching that of 2008 in the context of suit changes.
Further down the distance spectrum, Fran Halsall increased the size of the target on her back by winning medals with apparent ease in Budapest and will be looking to do the sprint freestyle double. This will be another opportunity for her to learn how to cope with being the overwhelming favourite, something that seems to have come naturally to date, but which is only going to become more of an issue as a home Olympics approaches. She’ll also be a strong contender in the butterfly events, heading the 10m commonwealth rankings, although all of the Australian contenders will be tough to beat.
Halsall’s nearest rival in the 100m free should be Australian Emily Seebohm, who will also feature in the other intriguing battle waiting to unfold in Delhi in the women’s backstroke. There Seebohm, who is world number 1 this year of the 100m event, will come up against England’s Gemma Spofforth and Lizzie Simmonds. Both of whom were European champions. This promises to be a thrilling battle which could go any way. Simmonds seems to swim well all season round, while Spofforth looks to benefit more from a proper taper, so it may well be that Spofforth can take the domestic battle, having been there or thereabouts in Budapest, but it really is too close to call and both the English ladies will need to be at the top of their respective games to pip Seebohm.
Scotland meanwhile will have high hopes for Hannah Miley in the medleys. Deprived of the opportunity to race double Olympic Champion Stephanie Rice due to the Australian’s shoulder problems, Miley will have to deal with the favourite tag, despite the potential presence of Kirsty Coventry, but should be out of reach in the 400IM. The 200IM gives her a great opportunity to take a title in the shorter event
On the Men’s’ side, things are quite wide open and South Africa and Canada are likely to feature more strongly than perhaps they will on the female side, with the likes of Cameron Vanderburgh, Brent Hayden and Roland Schoeman all contenders in their respective events.
For the home nations, Liam Tancock will look to defend his 100m crown and also to take the 50m backstroke title that eluded him in Melbourne thanks to his team-mate Matt Clay. Given his form in Budapest, and tin the British trials that preceded it seems likely he will be fast, and on paper he is over three quarters of second ahead his nearest Commonwealth rival, but will need to deal with Australian challenges from Haydn Stoekcel and Ashley Delaney. If Tancock is on form however, he is likely to have one eye on the Budapest results to see where he stands in relation top the new standard setter in the backstroke events, Camille Lacourt.
Joe Roebuck was Britain other medallist in Budapest, but he will have to overcome his team-mate James Goddard in the 200IM , with Goddard leading the Commonwealth rankings his year. Roebuck will be a strong contender in both the medley events however and could also feature in the 200m fly.
Finally, the relays. Australia start favourite for many, but in reality the fields are all open and the home nations will be strong, notably in the ladies 4x100m free where the European silver medal winning team will remain together, and in both men’s and ladies 4x200m squads where Britain’s relative strength in depth translates to several strong home nation teams. A strong Scottish men’s team, led by David Carry and Robbie Renwick, will certainly be looking to go one better than they did in Melbourne where they were pipped to the title by England’s fast finishing Ross Davenport.
In the ladies’ medley event, much will come down to the performance on the breaststroke legs with the peerless Leisel Jones likely to take substantial time out of every other team; whether it is enough when the consummate anchor leg swimmer Halsall will bring the English quartet home remains to be seen.
So, an intriguing meet in prospect. Critics may look at the standard at the Europeans and Pan Pacs and sneer, but the racing will be keen, there will be world class performances and whatever the concerns over security or facilities, the teams will enjoy themselves. Ultimately that is really what these games have always been about.