The British squad, perhaps looking to get away from the dreary British Isles in the dead of winter, were all over the map in competition this past weekend.
The most widespread, visible performances were those of the Brits who were competing in Austin at the Grand Prix Meet, and in Melbourne at the Victorian State Championships (aka Ian Thorpe’s glorious return to the Land of Oz).
In Austin, Jemma Lowe and Georgia Davies both swam well two months out of March’s first round of Olympic Trials.
Lowe took runner-up positions in both the 100 fly (58.16) and 200 fly (2:07.39). Both of those marks are the best of her young career (she’s only 21) at in-season meets, despite the disappointment of being chased down by Cammile Adams in the final 20 meters of the 200.
As for Davies, she swam very well, for her, in the 200 backstroke to place 2nd in 2:11.10. That’s only a tenth off of her best time, and two seconds faster than she was in all of 2011. Of course, remembering back to June’s World Championship Trials, she didn’t get to swim a fully tapered 200 backstroke last year. This was the saga where she was late to the pre-race check-in room and got disqualified from the 100. She therefore used her 200 back as a 100 meter time trial, and didn’t get a true time reading.
Still, she’s said that this year she’s looking to expand her focus into the 200 backstroke with her preferred 50 not in the Olympic schedule, and this swim was a good start to that. Her 100 backstroke of 1:00.65 wasn’t a best time, but it was a solid performance none-the-less, and put her almost three seconds ahead of British teammate Gemma Spofforth, who trains at Florida, in 1:03.48. Spofforth is probably in heavy training, but didn’t look as strong as some of her Gator teammates. That might have something to do with her different time-frame for taper (March, versus June for American Trials).
Meanwhile, breaststroker Richard Webb seems to be really improving his 100 speed, with a 1:02.06 in the 100 in Austin. He’s a 200 specialist, and though his 200 wasn’t great (2:13.51), the 100 speed should pay off at Trials, as he looks for a better performance than at last year’s World’s Trials.
Meanwhile, Ellen Gandy, who will be one of Lowe’s biggest competitors at British Trials, swam equally well in Melbourne, at least in the 100 fly. She marked a 57.96 that topped a highly competitive field including Alicia Coutts – the defending Worlds silver medalist. Gandy’s 200 fly came up a bit short, however, with a finals time of just 2:11.39. She hasn’t been that slow in a final in almost four years, since she was only 17. It was a condensed and hectic racing schedule, but that was still a disappointing time for her. Then again, elite swimmers can have off-races like everyone else, and the 100 fly was encouraging that it was just that – and off-race.
The less-visible meet internationally was the Flanders Swimming Cup in Antwerp, Belgium. There, the youngest British competitors showed off against some of the best veterans in all of Europe.
18-year old Eleanor Faulkner has been creeping into the British consciousness for the last year or so, and that came to a head in Belgium in the 800 free. She swam a 8:29.70 in the 800 free to place 2nd behind Danish world-silver-medalist Lotte Friis (8:27.93). That also put her ahead of open-water Olympian Keri-Anne Payne, who swam an 8:38.
For Faulkner, that’s a career-best by two seconds. She would also place 2nd to Friis in the 400 free by a mark of 4:10.36-4:08.32.
In the 200 IM, 18-year old Ieuan Lloyd took 2nd in 2:02.64, behind only Laszlo Cseh’s 2:01.68. An interesting name in 3rd was Xavier Mohammed in 2:03-flat. He was the 2008 European Junior Champion in the event (in a Meet Record of 2:00), but hasn’t been as fast since. He really fell off of the map in 2009 and 2010, but in 2011 started to round back to his previous form. He’s still not back to the level for which he might have been once destined, but he could easily be in the battle for an Olympic spot.
British veteran Michael Rock hasn’t been great since the suits disappeared, but he had a solid 200 fly time of 1:58.16. That topped Cseh, who was 2nd in 1:58.37. Cseh’s best swim of the weekend was a 52.74 to win the 100 fly ahead of Belgium’s top swimmer Francois Heersbrandt in 52.79. That’s just a tenth off of his National Record. Those two swims rank 2nd and 3rd in the world (behind only Phelps) very early in 2012.
As if Britain needed another young backstroker, 18-year old Georgia Hohmann crushed her lifetime best with a 2:09.71 in the 200 backstroke. She’s comparable to young American Missy Franklin, also a 200 backstroker, in that she’s really focused a lot of effort on her underwaters. Hohmann has struggled to keep up with the competition off of the walls – coming up as many as five or six strokes before her competition – and just been able to make it up on top of the water. Her dolphin kicks still aren’t great, but she’s far outdoing the 7-meter underwaters that used to really drag her down. She’s a serious competitor for an Olympic spot, even with the loaded British backstroke field.
Among top non-British swims at the meet were a 1:59.74 domination of the 14-15 age group in the 200 free from local Belgian swimmer Alexis Borisaveljevic. That is the 3rd-best time in his country’s history in that age group, and an eight-second improvement over the last time he swam this event in long course at the Belgian Junior Championships (a previous career best). He’s had some good swims in short course, which hinted at his long course potential. He’s still at least four years away from being a serious threat, but he’ll be a good swimmer to watch in future European Junior Championships.
The Netherlands’ Sebastaan Verschuren had a very good swim to top the men’s 100 free in 49.14.
Denmarks Jeanette Ottesen had a great meet with a 58.47 in the 100 fly and 25.75 in the 50. Those times (especially the 50) show great speed at this time of the year. Also in the 50 fly, Belgium swimmer Kimberly Buys took 2nd in 26.17. That crushes her old National Record in the event by three-tenths of a second.
Ottesen scratched the 100 free (that she’s the defending World Champion in), which was a bit disappointing, but the blow was cushioned by a great swim from Swedish 18-year old Michelle Coleman to win in 55.03. That’s a full-second career best for her, though she did relay-split a 54.5 in Shanghai. In Sweden’s endless search to fill out the fourth spot of either sprint relay, Continued development by Coleman at this pace could launch her to the top of that queue.
Also exciting was a 55.20 from Denmark’s Pernille Blume to take runner-up in the 100 free. With countrymates Mie Neilsen, Jeanette Ottesen, and Lotte Friis, she was part of a Danish relay that finaled at Worlds and ended up 8th. Of course, that’s 8th with the distance swimmer Friis having by-far the slowest split of the final. In reality, that relay is not too far from being in medal contention. They need to find a respectable replacement for Friis (they’ve got a lot of 16-and-17 year olds going 57’s that could break out), and with such youth, they could place in the top-5 in London.
City of Derby Level 1 Meet
And finally, thanks to one of our readers, a few more big-name Brits actually stayed home to attend a low-level meet in the City of Derby in Central England (specifically the Loughborough University team that is one of the UK’s best). Fran Halsall put up a huge 54.29 as the best swim of the meet. That’s a great start to regaining the podium in that race in the 100 free – she disappointingly finished 4th in Shanghai. Later in the final, without Halsall, 19-year old Rebecca Turner won the 15& over age group in 55.60.
Lizzie Simmonds, who broke a European (short course) Record in the 200 back at the Duel in the Pool, came back in 2:10.51 in her first long course meet since. Presumably, after that splendid performance in Atlanta, she went into heavy training, which means the 2:10.51 is a decent enough time against limited competition.
Liam Tancock looked worn. He took the 100 backstroke title, but only in 55.71. He also swam the 100 fly, but marked only a 57.22 to miss the final. Both times are not good for him, even for this time of year.