Rock Sets the Gold Standard

It was a case of continuing what they had started for Britain’s junior swimmers competing at the European Youth Olympic Festival, as the team claimed a further four medals and a British Junior Record on the second day of competition. Michael Rock led the way with gold in the 100m butterfly and was joined in the podium places by Mark Branch, Julie Gould and Francesca Halsall.

Everton swimmer Rock set a lifetime best in the heats of the 100m butterfly, with a time of 56.58 to qualify fastest for the evening’s final. He then lowered that best a second time, coming home strongly in 56.01 to take a stunning victory and touch out Germany’s Toni Embacher by just over 4 tenths of a second.

“I felt good coming into the competition, so I thought I’d do well, but I didn’t really think I could win it or even get a medal.” he said. “I felt really good after the heats though and was pretty positive for the final.”

“I saved a bit for the end of the race and I had a really good finish. We were neck and neck until about the last five metres and I had enough left to finish hard and that’s what won it for me.”

The day’s record breaker was North Ayrshire’s Mark Branch who took a deserved silver medal in the 200m breaststroke. Branch’s heat swim was just outside his own record as he qualified comfortably for the final, but he then produced something special in his second swim.

Taking the race out more steadily than he had in the morning, Branch demolished the old record as he touched home joint second with Hungary’s Akos Molnar in 2:18.85, almost two seconds faster than he had ever covered the distance before, in what was his last effort as a junior – he turns sixteen on Friday.

“I had hoped to swim that fast, but after my heat swim I had a few doubts. I changed my plan from the morning where I went out really fast and was just a bit more controlled. In the final I just swam my own race”

“When I touched and saw the result I just went mad, jumping out of the water and everything. I’m ecstatic.”

The set of medals was completed with two bronzes courtesy of City of Liverpool’s Francesca Halsall and Guildford City’s Julie Gould.

Halsall had qualified in seventh position for the final of the 100m freestyle but made no mistakes as she raced home third in a personal best time of 58.44, a mere 37 one hundredths of second behind eventual winner, Belgium’s Jorina Aerents. She also finished fifth in the B final of the 200m backstroke.

“I knew what I was going for and I knew what everyone else was doing so I knew I had a very good chance of a medal, but I’m really happy”

Gould, meanwhile improved her best time over the 200m Individual Medley by 2.5 seconds as she held off a strong challenge from fourth placed Antje Mahn of Germany over the closing freestyle leg to take the bronze in 2.22.41. Hungary’s Zsuzsanna Jakabos was the eventual winner.

“I was expecting to get into the final, but I didn’t expect to win a medal so I’m delighted” she said. “My last 50 was especially good because I saw the German coming up and was able to hold her off.”

Elsewhere, there were fifth placed finishes for Liam Smith in the 400m freestyle, in a time of 4:01.30, and the mixed 4x200m freestyle quartet of Smith, Rebecca Adlington, Lewis Owens and Charlotte Wright.