Commonwealth Games: What’s the future of British Swimming? A few thoughts

Ben Proud (England)

Watching The Commonwealth Games it’s easy to get carried away that British Swimming is back to its best. Certainly we have seen some great swims over the last few days at Glasgow’s Tollcross, culminating in the final day of events yesterday which saw two more sprint Golds from England’s Ben Proud (50 Free) and Wales’ Georgia Davies (50 back).

The publicity has been good too although much of the earlier coverage was about the success of the Scots and whether it will boost the cause of independence in the run up to the September vote. Perhaps Scottish swimmer Daniel Wallace – based in Florida and sounding distinctly American – didn’t help with his slap of the water and cry of ‘For Freedom’. It was a gesture he claimed was inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Braveheart. Yeah, right.

There’s no doubt of course that the Scots by and large did perform very well in their own backyard and would be a great loss to British Swimming if they did break away. Ross Murdoch’s stand out performance in the 200 Breaststroke was one of the best I have ever seen. Not only did the University of Stirling based swimmer beat a mightily cheesed off Michael Jamieson (who was hoping to improve on his Olympic Silver in the event), Murdoch’s time of 2:07.30 wasn’t that far off the world record time of 2:07.01 – set by Japan’s Yamaguchi in 2012.

It was also fantastic to see Scotland’s poster girl Hannah Miley back to her best at least in her key event of the 400IM, like Murdoch taking Gold in the pool on the first night (Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond must have been rubbing his hands in glee). She’s an unusual swimmer in many ways. Trained by her Dad she’s been part of the same swimming club since she was a wee girl and has only really just started training regularly in a long course pool since Aberdeen opened its doors earlier in the year. She’s also incredibly small for a swimmer – just 5 feet 4 inches in a sport where women of 5 feet 11inches or greater is the norm. Still ‘shortness’ (or actually average height) doesn’t seem to be trouble her, especially a very technical race like the 400 IM where skill is one of the most important factors.

Of course we shouldn’t get too carried away. The Commonwealth Games is often called the Friendly Games for good reason. There simply isn’t the competition of events like the Olympic Games and the World Championships. For a start there aren’t any Americans or Chinese competing which would have certainly have changed the complexion of the medal table somewhat!

But leaving aside the slightly worrying prospect that the Scots might break away from the British team which would definitely make us less competitive in certain events, there are signs of optimism for Rio 2016. Particularly promising are the emergence of young swimmers like Ben Proud who trains down in Plymouth with Jon Rudd (Rudd coached the England team in the Commonwealth Games).

He is a phenomenal talent, having achieved the sprint double in the 50m Fly and Free at The Commonwealth Games. Not since Mark Foster – now a BBC commentator at the Commonwealth Games – have we seen such a talented British sprinter and it’s clear that at the age of 19 he has much greater things to come. How much longer before he breaks Brazilian César Cielo’s 50m Free record of 20.91 (Proud’s British record currently stands at 21.76 seconds).

Then there’s Francesca Halsall. Disappointed at not picking up any silverware at London’s Olympics, the 24 year old also did the 50m sprint double, swimming the world’s fastest time ever in a textile suit in the 50m Freestyle (23.96 seconds). If she continues like this she could well be a medal contender in Rio 2016 at the relatively old age of 26.

But that’s not all. There’s a crop of other stars coming through, including sprinters like Breaststroker Adam Peaty and Backstroker Georgia Davies as well as all rounders like 18 year old Siobhan Marie O’Connor who had a really impressive medal haul with one bronze, four silvers and a gold in the 200IM.

Meanwhile, 19 year old Adam Peaty scooped Golds for England in both the 100m Breast and in the 4 x 100m Medley Relay as well as a silver in the 50m Breaststroke (though this isn’t an Olympic event).

Obviously it’s easy to get carried away on the back of such success, but it does seem like we may have finally overcome the disappointment of London 2012 where we only won three medals in the pool – Rebecca Adlington who got two bronzes in the 400m and 800m Freestyle and Michael Jamieson who got a surprise silver in the 200m Breaststroke.