What Is Happening With British Swimming!?

Article courtesy of Jan Homolak.

If you had the privilege of watching 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan the last few days you were able to see some outstanding performances.

Adam Peaty’s world record in semis of the men’s 50-meter breast with sizzling time of 26.42 and Championship record on 100. Katie Ledecky’s crazy world record time on 1500 and Sarah Sjostrom’s breathtaking 55.74 in woman’s 100 fly. Katinka Hosszu’s outstanding 200 IM. Kazan2015 performances have certainly created a great pressure on writers to come up with new superlatives.

One thing that stands out in all this amazing performances in the pool is that there seems to be more and more little British flags on swimming caps during finals and semi-finals. Britain’s anthem also seems to be more and more popular with every big swimming competition.

Joking aside, Brits look great in the pool ever since London, and James Guy’s 1:45.14 victory over the swimming heroes like Sun Yang, Ryan Lochte and Paul Biedermann proves that the trend of British charge on the swimming podium doesn’t show the signs of stopping.

So what is happening with British swimming?

If you believe that slight increase in Britain’s fund for sports in preparation for London Olympics 3 years ago still allows swimmers to enjoy the royal treatment in athletic preparation today you must have mistaken swimming for football.

I don’t believe the money is the answer. I believe the answer actually lies in mysterious realms of human performance, still quite foggy field of sports psychology.

The fascinating similarity between the uprising of British swimming and something that happened almost forty years ago in British athletics came to me while watching interview with Lauren Boyle on swimming performance of American long distance queen, Katie Ledecky.

Boyle said something that immediately reminded me of citation from the “Run, swim, throw, cheat”, a great book by biochemist Chris Cooper.

Boyle said that Katie Ledecky is doing something extraordinary and that her world record marks show what human body can achieve, what other swimmers can achieve if they train hard enough.

This right there is a beautiful example of how psychological barriers are broken down.

In life and sport, the effect a role model such as Katie has on performance is surely significant.

Cooper talks about similar thing happening in athletics when famous runner Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile barrier in Oxford in 1954.  Not so long before the 4-minute-mile barrier was smashed, Bannister’s  great rival, Australian John Landy said: “Frankly, I think the four-minute mile is beyond  my capabilities. Two seconds may not sound so much, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall.”Yet forty seven days after Bannister’s run Landy broke Lannister’s new world record with a time of 3:57.9

In a way, swimming heroes of modern age such as Ledecky, Hosszu, Peaty and Sjostrom break psychological barriers just like Bannister did in Oxford almost every time when they step up on the starting block. Racing on your peak several times every day on the level of World Championship finals and semi-finals was thought to be impossible according to not so old exercise physiology textbooks, yet Hosszu climbs on the block time after time and proves that it maybe is possible after all.   

This role model effect can also be analyzed on the level of the individual countries. To some extent I would say British swimming is reincarnation of British running phenomena from 1970s and 1980s.

In that time the world of athletics in Britain was dominated by the rivalry of two men, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett who traded world records in 800m, 1500m and the mile on almost weekly basis. Soon after they began exchanging world records with other local athletes such as Peter Elliott, Steve Cram and Tom McKean. Practically, the great proportion of what was going on in athletics was taking place in the United Kingdom. If you were to get autographs from a few world record holders you didn’t have to travel the world, they were there, in your back yard and that accumulation of success makes everyone around feel good. In other words, watching your local heroes become heroes on the big scene makes you feel like the chosen one. It seems that if you see your teammate take down world record holder in 100 breaststroke something magically clicks in your brain saying it could be you changing the swimming history as well. Success attracts success as my best friend likes to conclude.

I believe something similar is happening right now for British swimming. Little British swimmers are looking at Peaty’s 191cm figure climbing the top step of the podium to receive shiniest metal and shake hands with Olympic winner while listening to anthem that is on the top of the playlist in far away cold Russia just because of him and his teammates. A bit older ones are thinking about following his steps and the ones that he races in pools of England are eagerly planning how to replace their’s role model’s name with their own on the team roster in times to come.

I also feel the world media push this effect even further. In the time of British medal harvest during the 32nd LEN European Swimming Championship in Berlin last year, the part of the internet interested in guys and girls splashing up and down the pool in the battle for the European crown in the capital of Germany, was flooded with articles claiming Great Britain was the next new chosen country for producing swimming giants. Right now, one year after, it seems that article titles were not so far from the truth. After all, even with both, men’s and women’s 400 medley relay teams missing out on medals on Sunday, Great Britain still ended up with solid medal count. Record number 9 to be exact – “better than planned” in the words of head coach Bill Furniss, less than expected in the future as one can assume from the amount of the medal thirst kind of energy coming from every single one of the guys on the team.

With only one medal seized at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, and 900% increased effectiveness in Kazan, team of perspective juiced up racers and head coach who still wants to “raise the bar” I believe the only way for Brits is up. On the other hand, I’m eager to know how will the Americans respond, will the sleepy swimming giant awake on the wings of Ledecky and Michael Phelps screaming for his place on the podium from the Northside Swim Center. Steady rise of Asian swimming also announces that there’s more than a few ascending stars to look for in the future.

It’s an exciting time to enjoy swimming and I don’t have doubts there is more to come. More records to be smashed, more role models to be made, more stories to be told.    

About Jan Homolak:

 Jan is a longtime fan and swimmer from Croatia. He swims for ZPK under coach Pero Kuterovac. He is also a student at University of Zagreb Medical School and young researcher focused on the field of neuroscience and exercise sciences. He has been published in several peer reviewed journals and has given several lectures to different groups as well. He is the associate editor at Gyrus, academic journal published by the University of Zagreb and Croatian Institute for Brain Research currently indexed by the Google Scholar, DOI, CrossRef and HAW.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

13 Comment threads
36 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
23 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Swimmer A

If I recall correctly, Bob Bowman was hired as a consultant for British swimming after they tanked pretty hard at the 2012 games. Go figure they’re swimming out of their minds right now. I wonder if his advice had anything to do with this?


I had forgot about this. I sure that he had some good organizational tips.

bobo gigi

They will “only” win the men’s 100 breast next year in Rio.


200 free looks very promising as well!


very much dependant on agnels shape and if hagino focuses on it

Human Ambition

What about MP?

bobo gigi

MP will not swim the 200 free in Rio.
He will swim at most 3 individual events and 3 relays.
The 3 individual events are probably the 200 IM, 100 fly and 200 fly.
Don’t forget that he will be 31 next year. He can’t swim as many races as before.
And he will need to be at 200% to beat Le Clos in fly and at 100ù to beat Lochte in the 200 IM.

Philip Johnson

Guy could be a threat in the 200/400 free if he continues to improve. Don’t count him out.

bobo gigi

Guys, I count on Agnel to beat Guy in the 200 free.
And in the 400 free there’s a Chinese swimmer who rarely loses.


Peaty 100BRS looks their only rock solid Gold chance.

Guy, however, will be very much thereabouts in both 200 & 400. Perhaps categorise as “solid medal contender with potential for gold”.

USA 4X200 highly unlikely to be as vulnerable in Rio as they were in Kazan. Will still expect GBR to be around the medals.

Murdoch could repeat his 100BRS minor medal. No certainty but realistic medal chance. Either he or Willis could be around the medals in 200BRS. Peaty a question mark at that distance.

Whilst Hosszu has to be seen as overwhelming favourite in W200IM, O’Connor looks a very likely minor medal contender.

Halsall 2014 vintage a very legitimate contender W50FS; 2015 not so.

Not seeing anything else


I think that 800 Free Relay win is a break through for Team GB. I cannot recall the last time any of their relays had a big result at the Worlds or Olympics. Bobo (or anyone); any insight as to when? Curious and too lazy to research myself.


I think that Peaty will now focus more on 100 and 200 breast because there no 50 in OG. I strongly believe he’ll swim under 2.08 then and after basically everyone underperforming in the 200 breast in kazan theres still no real favorite.


One thing that differs for the U.S. team in the Olympic year, probably more than other countries because of the depth of comparable (not always better) talent in given events, is that guys start prepping strictly for their chances to secure a relay spot. So you end up getting very talented guys (Behrens, Dwyer in the past) switching their emphasis (Behrens was a great teenager in the fly) so they can get one of the top six spots at Olympic Trials. As an example, David Nolan (our fastest yards 200 IMer) dropped the 200 IM at U.S. Nationals so he could race the 100 free. This really doesn’t happen in non-Olympic years, so it’s kind of a wild card for… Read more »


I would say GB has a lot of medal chances, but only 2 realistic gold medal chances: Medal chances: Men: 200/400 free: Guy 100/200 breast: Peaty, Murdoch, Jamieson, Willis 100 back: Walker-Hebborn mens medley relay (their back half is very weak) mens 4 x 200 relay Women: 50 free: Halsall 400/800 free: Carlin 200 IM: O’Connor 400 IM: Willmott, Miley Small chances for a medal: Mens 200 back (Greenbank), mens 1500 free (Milne) I would give them at least 8 medals (mens 200/400 free, mens 4 x 200 relay, mens 100 breast, womens 400/800 free, womens 200 IM, womens 50 free). Gold medals: Mens 100 breast Womens 50 free Small chances for a gold medal: Mens 200/400 free Mens 4… Read more »

bobo gigi

Women’s 4X200 bronze at 2009 worlds
Women’s 4X200 gold in 2001 worlds
Men’s 4X200 bronze at 1998 worlds
Men’s 4X200 bronze at 1984 olympics
Men’s 4X100 medley bronze at 1978 worlds
Men’s 4X200 free bronze at 1976 olympics
I stop here. Too lazy. 🙂

bobo gigi

While I made my researches on wikipedia, I’ve read some funny results. Like the Chinese women in 1994. 12 gold medals out of 16. I didn’t watch swimming at that time. Too young. It should have been fun to watch! lol: I knew they had a dominant meet but I didn’t imagine a domination like that. The great years of Chinese girls in track too. I’ve always wondered why their men didn’t have the same doping program. They were probably jealous to see their female colleagues win. Then the great years of GDR! Wow! At 1986 worlds their girls won 13 golds out of 15 events. Very efficient. It should have been fun to watch. Weirdly in 1978, they have… Read more »

Human Ambition

Yes and 27m at high diving, 1500 m women. Etc.

bobo gigi

I responded to the question of Anonymus about GB relays in the history.


Yes, Bobo. It was an exciting time and I wish there were videos of GDR 76 or China 94. Even with doping now known it was incredible to watch times no-one thought possible eg Tauber taking 6 secs off the 400 IM WR (10 secs better than a month prev.) Or Richter 74 100 BK evey time she swam. It was great entertainment for the time…not that I approve of the circumstances at all!


Winning times on the womens side from 1978 world championships and 1986 world championships compared: 100 free: 55.68 (GDR) vs 55.05 (GDR) 200 free: 1.58.53 (USA) vs 1.58.26 (GDR) 400 free: 4.06.28 (Australia) vs 4.07.45 (GDR) 800 free: 8.24.94 (Australia) vs 8.28.24 (GDR) 100 breast: 1.10.31 (Soviet Union) vs 1.08.11 (GDR) 200 breast: 2.31.42 (Soviet Union) vs 2.27.40 (GDR) 100 back: 1.02.55 (USA) vs 1.01.74 (USA), 1.02.17 (GDR) for silver 200 back: 2.11.93 (USA) vs 2.11.37 (GDR) 100 fly: 1.00.20 (USA) vs 59.51 (GDR) 200 fly: 2.09.87 (USA) vs 2.08.41 (USA), 2.10.66 (GDR) for silver 200 IM: 2.14.07 (USA) vs 2.15.56 (GDR) 400 IM: 4.40.83 (USA) vs 4.43.75 (GDR) In only 6 events at 1986 world championships GDR won the… Read more »


Hey Bobo, can we send Adam Peaty over to France to get some “Starts training advice” from Manadou?

bobo gigi

Peaty would not be admitted in Marseille.
Only the physical beasts are allowed to train there. 🙂
Lacourt, Metella, Manaudou….
However, that would help his tan. He really looks like the perfect British guy. Very pale. 🙂


What exactly are the requirements for admittance to marsailles does anyone know?


Legend has it that when you turn out the lights he glows in the dark

bobo gigi

Correction. I responded to the question of Stoobie about the British relays.


I’m scared for peaty’s 200 breast, he was disappointing in kazan but he didn’t put focus on it. I know he’s a sprinter but I think he can do

Peaty is a sprinter, but he’s a train, he’s fast on both laps, and he does the second lap of the 100 faster than Gyurta. He has the endurance, and the speed, I think he can do it.


If he can work on his pull out and start…

Human Ambition

100 breast is pretty darn enough to kick ass at. ?


He should rather try to dominate 100 breast, considering how close Van der Burgh was to him, much less dominant than expected. 1 gold medal (100 breast) is better than 2 minor medals (100/200 breast).

About Tony Carroll

Tony Carroll

The writer formerly known as "Troy Gennaro", better known as Tony Carroll, has been working with SwimSwam since April of 2013. Tony grew up in northern Indiana and started swimming in 2003 when his dad forced him to join the local swim team. Reluctantly, he joined on the condition that …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!