London 2012; arguably the greatest Olympic Games ever, especially if you are British. With gold medals aplenty, records being broken daily and many heart-warming stories of triumph after adversity, it truly was a fortnight no-one will ever forget. However, not everything went according to plan. Whilst most sports were exceeding their targets, things were not running so smoothly over in the Aquatics Centre as the British swimmers performed terribly, picking up only three medals. This failure was easily covered over at the time but was still a huge worry for a sport that received over £25million-a-year in funding prior to the Games. Now, though, recent results suggest this was the kick up the backside British Swimming needed.
Have you been following the 2015 World Aquatics Championships? My guess is that most people will respond negatively to this. There’s no shame in that; there is an awful lot of sport going on at the moment. The Barclays Premier League returns this weekend, we are in the middle of an Ashes series – as I write this, the Aussies have all-but-surrendered the famous urn after being bowled out for an appalling 60 (oh dear, what a shame) – and, of course, the latest ‘scandal’ in the track and field world is creating many headlines. On top of that, the competition is being shown on BBC2 between 4-6pm – the time when most people are travelling home from work – and is being held in a city called Kazan… I’d never heard of it either! However, for those who have managed to keep up with the goings on in that well-known Russian city, it is fair to say that the results have been pleasantly surprising.
At the time of writing, Britain lie fourth in the overall medal table with six golds and eleven medals in total. This isn’t bad at all, especially considering this includes disciplines in which we haven’t even entered athletes, i.e. water polo. Narrow your search down to the indoor swimming medal table and things get even better – Britain is top! The USA may have more total medals, but even the traditional powerhouse of the sport have one less gold than us. Not only that, we’re also ahead of the Australians – yet another sport in which we are currently better than them. This is a frankly superb achievement, especially given the recent performances by British swimmers, and with another twenty four medals still to be won there is the chance that this could be the best British performance at a FINA World Championships ever.
A lot of the success can be attributed to new British poster-boy Adam Peaty as he has been involved in three of the golds, although freestyle specialist James Guy may argue otherwise with his superb gold and silver efforts. The world first glimpsed Peaty’s potential talent during the Commonwealth Games last year when he won two golds and a silver in the pool, providing stern competition to Cameron van den Burgh. The South African (no, not the one with the hilarious father) won the 100m breaststroke at London 2012 and was the world record holder in both that and the 50m version at the time. Despite beating this formidable opponent, many still wrote off Peaty’s performances due to the perceived lack of competition as many major swimming nations did not take part. However, his three golds so far have elevated him to be seen as the top male British swimmer at this moment in time. Not bad for someone who was afraid of water as a child.
As well as Peaty, the Commonwealth Games allowed a whole host of young swimmers to announce themselves to the world. Chris Walker-Hebborn, Ben Proud, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor and Aimee Willmott all produced fantastic breakthrough performances, whilst the Games also allowed athletes like Jazz Carlin and Fran Halsall to remind both the public and themselves of just how good they are. Despite this, as is the British way, the 47 medals collected by the British nations in Glasgow were played down and attributed solely to the ‘poor quality opposition’ as many were quick to remind the optimists that just one year earlier Halsall’s bronze in the 50m freestyle was the only medal Team GB won at the 2013 Worlds. One year later however, the swimmers are proving their critics wrong. O’Connor has already picked up a superb bronze in the 200m medley whilst Walker-Hebborn was a solid fifth in the 100m backstroke and still has the 50m event to come. Carlin narrowly missed out on a medal in the medal in the 400m freestyle with her favoured 800m event starting tomorrow and Halsall hasn’t even entered the water in an individual event yet. As well as this, the mixed 4x100m medley relay squad made up of Peaty, Walker-Hebborn, O’Connor and Halsall smashed the world record on their way to a supreme gold. Still think they’re not that good?
On the other hand, the fact that I am writing an article celebrating Britain competing with the likes of the USA and Australia in the pool shows had bad things became. For an island nation, which has some of the best facilities in the world, a return of two silvers and a bronze is utterly pathetic. Is this performance at the World Championships a sign of what is to come? As much as I’d love to say yes, the truth is that we won’t know until next year’s Olympics. For the moment though, why not just celebrate the success of the moment without playing it down? Oh yeah, because we’re Brits…