2022 was the strangest of swimming years. Never before had we seen a world championships off and then almost immediately on again, let alone in a year that already boasted a Commonwealth Games and European Championships. It all led to a cluttered calendar but one with opportunity abounding for Britain’s swimmers. From that surfeit of international competition it’s no easy task to pick the cream of the crop, but here are the pullbuoy swimmers of the year for 2022.
What. A. Year. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe what was an astonishing performance from Ben Proud in 2022, one that brought him the world title over 50m freestyle, to which he duly added the Commonwealth crown and European gold to complete an unprecedented long course clean sweep. He found ways to win when things weren’t going his own way just as much as he was able to impose himself on his competitors, all the while being a model of consistency – his three gold medal times were 21.32, 21.36 and 21.58.
Only an inspired Jordan Crooks prevented a successful defence of the World Short Course world title in Melbourne and hence the perfect year, but the journey from the depths of the post Tokyo despair to the top of the world has been quite the sight to behold.
An honourable mention here for Tom Dean who had a remarkable year of his own. Three bronzes at world championships, a record 7 medals at the Commonwealth Games and another complete set at the Euros spoke volumes for his tenacity, while another world bronze at the SC world titles completed a full hose from international competition and whet the appetite for what he might achieve in 2023.
If the men’s category was simple to call, the ladies’ was anything but. Elite sport is to some extent, however, a case of taking opportunities when they are presented and in this case that swayed the choice in favour of Imogen Clark. As an avowed 50m specialist, Clark had largely forgone GB representation as a consequence of the focus on Olympic events, so when the chances came in 2022 to compete internationally she grabbed them with both hands.
At the Commonwealth Games she claimed 50 breaststroke silver and somewhat forced the selectors hands as she also got the nod for the European Championships. In Rome she overcame the adversity of a covid enforced isolation on arrival to grab the bronze medal. Across both long course meets she was beaten only by the podium from the world championships and it remains a shame she didn’t get the chance to contest them directly. She did, however get a short course shot and finished a creditable 6th.
Against the clock, Imogen was also the only woman to set an individual British Record in 2022, something she achieved twice, lowering her long course 50m breaststroke record to 30.02 in Birmingham and then adding the short course version for good measure with 29.30 in Melbourne, giving further sparkle to a glistening year for her.
An honourable mention for 2020 and 2019 winner Freya Anderson who picked up medals by the bucketload, with 9 medals across the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, while she so very narrowly missed the world podium in Budapest. Having opened up about dealing with her mental health struggles, it seems we will see more from her in 2023.
How do you deal with going from a rank outsider to a vital part of your country’s relay hopes? With no problem if you are Medi Harris it seems. Having broken Georgia Davies’ Welsh Record over 100m backstroke at the start of the year, Harris got herself onto the GB team for the world championships where she then found herself covering for the injured Kathleen Dawson in the Olympic Champion mixed medley relay and thrown into the 4×100 and 4x 200 freestyle relays, not to mention her individual events.
She performed way above what we might have expected at a first global meet, making the final of the 100m backstroke and coming through a semi final swim off in the 50m backstroke to achieve the same in the sprint version. In all, it was a total of 12 swims across the week and it appeared she was a seasoned veteran, not a newcomer at all.
Confidence gained, it was time for the medals, with 100m backstroke bronze in Birmingham for Wales, followed by silver for GB in the same event in Rome, just 0.06s from the top of the podium. Her relay skills were also to the fore with a complete set of medals in the team events, topped by gold in the 4×100 freestyle, to crown a remarkable debut season.
With so many meets there were a lot of performances to choose from, but one stood out, just from the pack. The 100m freestyle remains the blue riband of events, and Lewis Burras’s British record from teh semi final of the world championships was a performance out of the top draw. As he remarked on the pullbuoy podcast, nobody was really looking at that thanks to the excellence of David Popovici at the head of the race, but the significance was not lost at home.
At trials, Lewis had already become only the second GB man to break 48s and here he was taking the British Record from one of Britain’s finest ever, Duncan Scott, with a 47.63s blast. It’s all the more remarkable given the trials and tribulations, both physical and mental, he has overcome just to get back to the starting blocks and sets him up nicely for 2023 as part of a thriving cohort of male sprinters, something Britain has often lacked, but not any more.
An honourable mention here for Duncan Scott’s 400IM British Record at the GB trials, when he confirmed what we all knew – that he can swim anything to an elite level. It was such a shame that Covid robbed him of the chance to test himself against the world in Budapest.
There is something about relays that generates drama and excitement. The ebb and flow and the chance for one team to chase down or hold off another inevitably draws the watcher in, leaving either triumph or despair in the wake of the final touch. The final race of the Commonwealth Games this year was a fine example of that as the men’s medley relay teams went head to head.
With a fit and firing Adam Peaty, England would have been strong favourites, but with him still nursing his broken foot, it was a tough race to call with Australia and the home team closely matched over the opening three legs. For England it would come down to whether those could generate enough of a lead for Tom Dean on the anchor to hold off that arch relay finisher Kyle Chalmers in the green and gold.
And that was exactly how it played out – Brodie Williams, James Wilby and James Guy combined to send Dean off 0.56s ahead of Chalmers, but would it be enough? The Australian had closed to 0.3s by the midway point and is known for finishing strongly, but Dean drew on all his 200m freestyle know-how to somehow hold him off at the death – a long arm over the top just getting the touch by 0.08s to send the crowd inside the Sandwell Aquatic Centre into raptures and to fully embody his new moniker “Tom Dean: Relay Machine”. An epic end to the meet.
It may not have generated the same atmosphere, but an honourable mention here for James Wilby’s 200m breaststroke at the European Championships – sneaking into the final in lane 8 and running on fumes, Wilby took the race by the scruff of the neck over the opening 100m and instead of dying a horrible death as we all expected, kept up the pace to win comfortably – a terrific race, if only because it was so unexpected.
For a while we weren’t sure how the gap left when Hannah Miley and Aimee Wilmott retired would be filled. And then all of a sudden there was a crop of new medley swimmers on the scene. The latest to add their name to that list is Leah Schlosshan. The City of Leeds swimmer won Britain’s only individual gold of the European Junior Championships this year in taking the 200IM title with a comfortable victory. It was a performance that moved her into the GB top 20 all time, and 5th amongst current swimmers, so she could be banging on the door for senior selection in 2023.
Banner image: British Swimming/Speedo