British Trials Post-Mortem: How They Killed Their Own Momentum

Coming into 2016, Britain was the hottest country in world swimming. They won an impressive nine medals at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan and were buoyed by a strong mix of older and younger swimmers. While there were a few standout swims from this past weeks British trials, the results overall were a near disaster. The realistic medal chances for Britain based on this trials meet come down to two swimmers: Adam Peaty and James Guy. Of those two, Peaty is a one event swimmer at the Olympics, and Guy will likely face much harsher competition than he did last summer.

Fading Chances

The rest of the Kazan medalists look weak. Jazmin Carlin, who won bronze in the 800 free, swam nearly ten seconds slower in that event this past weekend. Only a last ditch effort in the 400 free saved her qualification, but she will need to swim significantly faster to medal in Rio.

Meanwhile, Siobhan Marie O’Connor looked like a swimmer with plenty of upside and Olympic experience from 2012 to help calm her nerves. But the swims from this past weekend were full of tension. She was a second slower than she needed to take bronze in Kazan. Although that time ranks her second in the world, chances are O’Connor will need to reverse the trend if she wants to medal in Rio.

Even the World Champion men’s 4×200 relay took a hit. Daniel Wallace, who started that relay, was way off the entire competition, struggling from the first day’s 400 freestyle. He will not return for Rio. Robbie Renwick, despite putting everything into his 200 free effort, managed just 1:47.23 after a 1:45.9 split in Kazan. With the 4th place team from Kazan just 2.5 seconds back, there is no room for slippage from the Brits in this race.

Failed Potential

Although Russia has consistently dominated at the European Junior level, Britain has had some good Juniors through as well. Last summer’s European Games in Baku looked especially promising, with a total of 23 medals won through the competition. Simply put, those good Junior results did not progress as they should have in 2016.

The most glaring example is Luke Greenbank, who set a World Junior Record in the 200 backstroke in Baku (1:56.82). With the qualifying time set at 1:55.13 (and the 2% standard at 1:55.9) Greenbank needed to improve significantly to make the Olympic team. Instead, Greenbank went in the opposite direction and won in 1:57.79.

Abbie Wood was another gold medalist from Baku that back slid and was well outside of Rio contention. After going 4:41.9 last summer, she managed just 4:43 in the final at British Trials.

Paradoxically, Duncan Scott, who won both the 200 and 100 freestyle in Baku and improved massively in the last nine months, needs to be subjectively selected onto the 4×200 freestyle relay in order to swim in Rio.

Standards Too High

While so much of the talk in this Olympic season has been on tough national standards for Rio, Britain stands out. Whereas France was somewhat defensible in where they set their Rio marks, Britain may have seriously overestimated. In many events, the automatic Rio standard was so far from reach that it became demoralizing for the athletes.

When a swimmer like Chloe Tutton breaks the national record by 1.5 seconds in the 200 breaststroke, while recording a time that would have won silver in Kazan, and still has to sweat out a subjective selection, something is wrong. While many of the problems in British swimming several Olympiads ago can be attributed to poor standards, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

Not Over Yet

One of the few advantages of setting your Trials competition in April versus late June like the United States is that you have time to adjust. If the leadership of British swimming, most importantly Olympic Head Coach Bill Furniss, can make the right adjustments between now and Rio they can still be successful. There is little point at the moment in lingering on what went wrong this past week, and Britain still has a once in a generation talent like Guy to build their Olympic hopes around.

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7 years ago

Wasn’t ths momentum started at the commenwealth games- with GB split up, allowing more althletes to qualify- look at those who stood up at that meet/period and have gone from strength to strength. I think the point of the article is that swimmers are not going that have achieved the fina A time and would have a descent shot at finals. GB swimmers have shown that they can step up when given the chance- it seems like the qualifying standard won’t allow as many to do so. Perhaps a funding incentive on those doing the GB time and then allowing the ones reaching the fina A standard a opportunity to represent their country.
Nice to see the parents protecting… Read more »

7 years ago

I think that the crux of the matter is whether going to the Olympics an incentive/reward for very high level athletes who have spent years of hard training and competition or a way for the head of a national sport federation/sports minister to score points against his counterparts.

7 years ago

I’m sure the GB selection policy for the Worlds in 2015 were just as tough as the Rio 2016 policy. Didn’t we do a great job in Kazan? I found the Auto and 2% times here at Pullbuoy

David Berkoff
7 years ago

I think the important point is that no one should write off the athletes. The federations with these silly standards have already done that–assuming that if they can’t hit what the administrators think are medal contending times why take them to Rio. The enemy is stupidity in the form of unrealistic and deflating standards not the athletes.

Trials are stressful enough that all these kinds of standards do is to add to the pressure. Anyone who has been in the ready room at a US trials knows what stress is. Throwing ridiculous time standards on top of what is the toughest race of ones life is just stupid.

Caroline Peaty
7 years ago

The time to comment is after the olympics! Bill Furness has had an enormous impact on British swimming and in the change of attitude. All an athlete can do is give 110% and what right do you have to criticise? Could anyone of u do any better? I think not.
Let’s wait and see what Great Britain can do, I have every faith in our swimmers ????????

7 years ago

I agree that adults in professional sports should come to expect some level of public comment on, or critique of their performance. Abbie Wood and Luke Greenbank however are not adults. They are high school aged athletes and to describe them as failed potential is unduly harsh in my opinion.

Reply to  Lokermotion
7 years ago

I think you might have misunderstood the “failed potential” part. I think it doesnt describe those athletes as failed potential but the fact that they couldve been faster this year with different standards. No one doubts that Greenbank, Wood or Rudin can still win international medals in the future, its just that those standards didnt allow (some) young talents to unfold their full potential this year.
Its doesnt really have much/anything to do with those special athletes, its no kind of critique towards those young swimmers, but towards the policy of british swimming.
(Not my opinion, but thats just how i understood the text)

Diane Halsall
7 years ago

Wouldn’t worry about it Sean O’Connor people have been writing Fran off for years but she has still won 32 international medals ,she is also written off by many for an Olympic medal . Just relax and smile at their remarks , they are entitled to an opinion and that’s all it is. Siobhan will be amazing and we are lucky to have her on the GB swim team.

Sean O'Connor
Reply to  Diane Halsall
7 years ago

Thanks Diane, I agree that when they’re in doubt they often make it up.

Fingers crossed for the whole team in the Summer, it’s a tough enough sport without the negativity.

See you over there.

7 years ago

Given that Calaeb Dressel was almost lost to the sport due to Internet commentary and critique, is it wise, or fair, to refer to young athletes as ‘failed potential’?

Reply to  Chris DeSantis
7 years ago

I understand the desire to avoid overly harsh criticism of our athletes in swimming, but that’s what comes with the territory of elite level sports. At least within the commentary sections of most swim message boards, the comments are actually more about time/talent/form and not just personal attacks on the swimmer. Certainly not the case when society starts to discuss elite athletes in the NBA/NFL/etc.

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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