Excel: First Class

At the start of a new collaboration, where pullbuoy has teamed up with the GBSwimstars project, we take a look at the story behind the photos; the photos that record the state of Britain as a swimming nation leading into the London Olympics. First up are the swimmers of Derventio Excel.


Ladies and gentlemen, we are now seeing the beginnings of another stage of human evolution…

Jean Grey: X-men First Class


Pic: Oliver Davidson

OK, so another stage of human evolution might be stretching the point somewhat, but deep in Derbyshire a quiet evolution of the swimming landscape has been taking place in the progression of Dereventio Excel on the national stage.

The squad was formed in 2003 with the aim of assisting the development of swimming in the Derbyshire region by supporting the local clubs in delivering top quality training and competition via a central elite group. At the time this was a central tenet of the revolution in British Swimming being masterminded by Bill Sweetenham and such a development was of course encouraged.

This was the genesis of the Excel squad, named also for the Latin name of the River Derwent which flows though Derby. From those beginnings, the squad has developed and now regularly places swimmers onto national junior and senior teams, while progressively improving the number of swimmers it sends to national championships.


Molly Renshaw

To date the squad’s biggest achievement has come in the shape of one of the longer standing members of the group, Molly Renshaw. Having been a Derventio swimmer since the age of 11, her potential was well known to the club, but she announced herself to a wider audience at 2011’s ASA Nationals.

Renshaw had never swum under 2:30 for the 200m breaststroke heading into that meet, but suddenly dropped her best to 2:27.67, earning herself an unexpected trip to the World Championships in Shanghai. She couldn’t maintain that form in the Far East, coming home in 2:28.35 for 20th place in the heats, but the experience gained was invaluable for her main aim – a place in London for the Olympics. To achieve that goal would require a further drop in her best time to 2:26.89 – a feat she achieved, recording a time of 2:26.81 in the trials final, but despite clawing back a defecit of 1.10s over the closing 50m, she couldn’t quite catch Stacey Tadd who secured the one selection berth confirmed to date.

“It’s a bit gutting” said Molly immediately after her race, “but I’ll be back in June and take it from there”, her swim having placed her in pole position to take that second Olympic spot. Selection for the European Junior Championships and a senior call up for the US Open in August softened the blow a little.

Pic: Molly Renshaw


But head Coach Andi Manley has bigger aims for the squad, working to turn it into a regular producer of internationals:

“Derventio as a whole squad are going from strength to strength, we have now had 6 International swimmers, including 3 of them senior internationals, in the last 2 years, and our aims keep getting higher.” he says. “Everyone is raising their game and improving all the time, that is all the swimmers from the development squad right up to the international swimmers, standards are getting higher and its great to see all the swimmers wanting to improve themselves.”

Manley was himself a handy sprint freestyler, who learnt his coaching trade during 7 years at Loughborough University, taking over the Derventio squad in 2009, after a successful stint with Swindon Dolphins. That sprint pedigree has borne fruit as 50m freestyler Kane Haggett broke 23 seconds for the first time at Olympic trials to book himself a senior international cap at the US open later this year.

Pic: Krissy Tomlinson


Pic: Abbie Wood

For the club the opportunity to be part of the GBSwimstars project was too good to pass up. Explains assistant coach Kim Hill: “Derventio eXcel and all involved were excited and honoured to be a part of the GB Swimstars project. Simon’s photos are amazing and really capture the essence of swimming stars and future stars around the country. Great Britain are privileged to have someone capture all these moments in the lead up to the home Olympics”

As for the swimmers an X-Men themed shoot was easy to get excited about. “We are all so excited to be a part of the photos for GB Swimstars, we have seen some of the other work Simon has done… they are amazing!” said Jess Cross


“The photos really allowed us to have fun and try different things, it was a great experience and doing the different looks was great” adds Kathryn Roworth. But it wasn’t always easy, given the need to look mean, notes Krissy Tomlinson, “When we were told it was an X-men type theme, we had to practice our game faces” she says “Which was hard when we were having so much fun!”

You can see the full gallery of photos from the Derventio Excel shoot at the GBSwimstars website here

Pic: Lucy Wood

All images © 2012 GBSwimstars