Trials Battles: Where the fiercest fights will be fought

Rebecca Adlington
Rebecca Adlington - part of the battle in the 200m freestyle

We’ve already looked at some of the events where the competition for Olympic places will be fiercest, namely the womens’ butterlfy and backstroke and the men’s breaststroke, but the competition doesn’t end with those three disciplines. While the field is perhaps widest open for those events, there will still be some fierce battles to obtain treasured Olympic spots across the balance of the events.

Many of those will be fought amongst the ladies and will involve a new crop of up-and-coming swimmers who might be familiar to those following British Swimming regularly but who will be new to many. Take the medley events, for example. While Hannah Miley is a nailed on favourite to take places in both the 200 and 400m events, behind her the picture becomes much less clear.

Aimee Wilmott would appear to be leading the selection race in the 400m, and swam under the qualifying time last year, but will have to contend with the challenge of last year’s incumbent Stephanie Proud and of course Kerrieanne Payne who is looking to add a pool swim to her open water selection. Willmott has the edge so far this year, but Payne beat her to the podium in Delhi in 2010, so she will need to be at her best to secure her spot.

In the shorter medley, Sophie Allen, who currently leads the GB rankings for 2012, and the swimmer who raced with Miley in Shanghai last year, Siobhan Marie O’Connor are the two swimmers who seem to have the best credentials. O’Connor has flown a little under the radar so far this year, and it’s likely we’ve not seen her at her best yet, so on that basis could be considered a favourite to retain her place. Willmott will also be a factor.

The medleys are also hard to call for the men, particularly over 400m. Roberto Pavoni and Joe Roebuck head the pack and were both under the selection time in 2011, but will face a strong challenge from Lewis Smith and a resurgent Thomas Haffield. Still the Commonwealth record holder, despite a difficult couple of years, Haffield has looked more like his old self recently and leads the British Rankings in 2012. It promises to be a tight battle to secure the first two Olympic places to be confirmed at Trials.

The other big battle brewing for the ladies would seem to be in the 200m freestyle, where there is little to choose between the main contenders either last year or this. Jo Jackson headed the GB ranks last year, just ahead of Caitlin McClatchey and Rebecca Turner, although none of the three managed a swim faster than the Olympic qualification standard of 1:57.83. McClatchey has looked the strongest this year, having seemingly refocused her training on the middle distance events where she made her name, after a period of concentrating on sprints, and looks to be favourite for an individual berth. However, the big question will be the approach of Rebecca Adlington.

Adlington will be focussed on her defence of her 800m freestyle Olympic title, and it’s not clear how much speed she will be bringing to trials, despite being the defending British Champion. It’s altogether possible that the race will be gone for her before she can use her superior finish. Add Jazz Carlin to the mix and the battle looks tough just to secure the top-4 time needed for relay selection. Certainly the final promises to be faster than last year’s – a theme sure to run through the week.

In general the 2011 trials were somewhat lacklustre, with many top names below their best and numerous places going unfilled, but this is unlikely to happen again this year. Not only are these trials offering a place at a home Games, motivation enough for all, but there have been no interruptions to preparations this time round. A late Commonwealth Games in 2010 led many swimmers to take breaks late in the year with the result that the training block leading into trials was curtailed. Not so this time around with preparations for most beginning in August last year to make sure of an arrival at trials in optimum shape.

These are just a few of the events that will be contested over the coming 8 days, but it’s important to remember that no Olympic place will be won easily. The selection times are tough and in every event swimmers will be training every sinew to be one of the selected duo. With so much at stake it promises to be an intriguing week in Stratford with as many dreams shattered as fulfilled. Let battle commence!