2014 really couldn’t have been more different from 2013. Instead of doom and gloom and ifs and buts, Britain’s swimmers are contemplating what 2015 brings with renewed optimism. Hatfuls of medals at the Commonwealth Games and a best-ever showing at the European Championships combined to make this a great year for the sport in Britain. But for there to be awards there must be winners, so without further ado here they are. Let us know what you think on Twitter or leave a comment below.
This was the toughest category to call. It could only really have gone one of two ways, but when it came to it, in a fingernail touch worthy of her signature event, the crown had to go to Francesca Halsall, repeating her win from last year.
Halsall had a long course year of sustained excellence, with ten 50m free times under 24.5 and a world textile best of 23.96 when she won the Commonwealth title, later adding European gold for good measure. That ensured she ended the year ranked 1 in the world, albeit Cate Campbell matched her effort, but Campbell had been downed when it mattered in Glasgow.
And that was a critical factor. Halsall raced brilliantly this year, seeing off 8 of the world top 10 on her way to the two major titles she snared. With confidence now restored we look forward to her assault on the world title next year and on to Rio.
But this was far from an easy decision. In fact it was nearly impossible, so an honourable mention must go to Jazz Carlin who also had a fantastic 2014. She ended the long course season as world number two over 400m and 800m freestyle with European titles in both and the Commonwealth gold in the longer event, and cemented her place as one of the world’s best distance swimmers.
Who else could it be? 19 year old Adam Peaty had the year of his dreams in 2014, catapulting him firmly into world class and stamping his authority all over the Commonwealth and Europe.
World number 1 in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke by substantial margins, with a sprint world record thrown in for good measure, Peaty took all the major titles he attempted in the long course pool at Commonwealth and European level and race brilliantly.
But this wasn’t the mark of a flat track bully – Peaty faced down the reigning world and Olympic champions in Glasgow and took gold with a highly mature swim. His temperament is thus not in doubt either, a huge credit to his coach Mel Marshall. Peaty’s story is only just beginning on the senior international stage and he will face greater pressure next year now he is not a relative unknown, but what a year this has been for him. Simply fabulous.
One time is what made the difference in this category. 1:58.05 took Luke Greenbank to European junior gold in the 200m backstroke and to the top of the British rankings in that event for 2014. Add in gold and silver from the Youth Olympics in Nanjing and it was quite a summer of junior competition for the Cockermouth swimmer. The 200 back is in a state of flux in Britain at the moment; Greenbank has an opportunity to stamp his mark on it in 2015.
It was a superb 2014 for Steph Slater. Bouncing off silver in the Commonwealth Games S8 100m freestyle into the IPC European championships, she really made a splash in Eindhoven.
Seven gold medals, including five individual titles and a world record in the S8 100m butterfly tells its own story. Given Slater had only returned to the water a little more than 18 months previously and only made her international para-sport debut in 2013, this was a dominant performance. It was one rightly recognised as she won Disability Sportswoman of the Year and there was no other contender for this award.
This mid-year of an Olympic cycle is a strange one for Britain’s open water swimmers. With no world championships, and no open water competition at the Commonwealth Games it can feel like a down year. The only real high level end competition came in Berlin where Dan Fogg took an excellent gold medal in the 5km time trial, bouncing back from what was a disappointing competition for him in Glasgow. With the emergence of a host of new 1500m thrusters, maybe now’s the time for him to focus on the open water; his swim in Berlin indicates he still has plenty to offer in the lakes.
You could pick one of two swims from the men’s medley team this year as they took both major titles they contested. Leading up to Glasgow we’d discussed on the podcast how Australia was a shoe in for all 6 relay medals. Well they took 5, but luckily the English men were not podcast listeners and were not going to let them have it all their own way.
Led off by a resurgent Chris Walker-Hebborn, buoyed by a dominant Adam Peaty and then sustained by some remarkable fly from Adam Barrett, the opening 3 legs gave anchor man Adam Brown an unassailable lead, from which he duly delivered gold. It was a stunning piece of team work and even though on paper it looked as though it was on, it was a riveting race from the off.
And then they did it again in Berlin a few weeks later. Swap in Ben Proud for Brown and the same formula paid dividends once more with another gold. The team ended the year ranked third in the world and now firmly in the global medal mix.
At the tail end of 2013, we talked about Adam Barrett on the Pullbuoy podcast as he set new British short course records at the Scottish Short Course Championships, but it’s unlikely many others around the world would have been paying too much attention. Well they certainly sat up and took notice this summer.
Barrett was a significant part of the British medley relay success, seeming to grow an outboard motor when racing with his teammates. In Berlin his fly leg was simply sensational. It’s one thing to be given a 1.24 second lead but to then take a further 0.5s out of a championship field was incredible. His split was equally eye-catching; 50.62 was just 0.02 behind the time Michael Phelps recorded in the equivalent event at Pan–Pacs. Add in individual bronze in the 100m fly in Glasgow and it was a debut senior season to remember.
Not content with making his senior international debut at the Commonwealth Games this year, City of Sheffield swimmer Lewis Coleman also decided he should give something back through his sport.
Lewis’ mum has been suffering with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and her treatment has been supported by Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. So what better way to support them than by setting a world record in the pool? Roping in past and present British swimmers from all around the country, a day of racing and fundraising was planned for February of this year and Swim 4 Leukaemia was born.
What Lewis achieved was sensational. The event not only set a world record for 100 x 100m freestyle by almost 9 minutes, it showed the sport of swimming at its best and raised a huge sum for cancer research. There simply couldn’t be another winner in this category.
When you think about a lifetime’s worth of achievement in the sport of swimming it’s hard to think of a better set of credentials than those of Dave Haller. The City of Cardiff coach hung up his stopwatch in 2014 after 47 years of coaching that followed on from his own Olympic appearance as a swimmer in 1964.
It is as a coach though that Haller really made his mark, coaching 45 swimmers to the Olympics and placing athletes on every Olympic team since 1968, Including coaching David Wilkie and Duncan Goodhew to Olympic Gold.
Overall his swimmers have achieved six World records, ten Olympic medals (including three golds), 32 Commonwealth medals and over 20 European and World Championship medals. Those medal winners have included more recently David Davies and Gregor Tait.
Haller has been head coach at the City of Cardiff club since 1991, his second stint in charge there. This year he placed six of his swimmers on the Welsh Team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a fitting footnote to a terrific career on poolside.