Daniel Jervis was a European Junior champion for Britain and bronze medallist in the Commonwealth 1500m freestyle final for Wales with a stunner of a senior breakthrough back in 2014. Come the Olympic trials in 2016 and Jervis finished fourth.
He was devastated. This had been the moment he’d dreamt of since boyhood: his first Olympic Games. Gone. But not forever. The thing about folk who can crack 15 minutes in a 1500m freestyle is that they tend to be tough and they’re rarely if ever to be found giving up.
And so it was that we found Jervis, coached by Adam Baker at Swansea Aquatics, refusing to let the two who made the Olympic team a year ago get away before he got away from them on his way to a 14:51.48 lifetime best and a place in the line of those who by Sunday will almost surely be holding a ticket to the World Championships in their hand.
Budapest-bound, then, this July, Jervis emerged from the 30-lap battle he took charge of after the 400m mark to say:
“I am so happy with that. My body’s not but my mind is. Coming fourth last year (Olympic trials): I was devastated by that … but me and my coach knuckled down and we’ve worked so hard – and this is the reward.”
Oddly at that moment of high emotion, he was asked if he planned to make any changes to his preparation this season. He thought he’d stick to what appeared to be working and then got on to what he wanted to talk about: support.
“Can I just say thanks to my mam, my dad, my coach Adam and then God, ‘cos I’ve been praying so hard for this.”
Cue cheer. Those were the folk who never gave up on him through the hard knocks. There were others, like FINIS, the kit maker that signed him up as a man who they thought could do with some help.
It all came to something today as Jervis went through splits of 1:56.47 (200) 3:56.09 (400) 4:55.62 (500) 7:54.84 (800) 9:54.56 (1000) and on to the 14:51.48 2017-world-rank No 4 that confined to history his previous best of 14:55.33 that landed his Welsh bronze at Glasgow 2014 and has since been a barrier that refused to budge.
Jervis shifted the boulder aside today, his pathway to a senior challenge in world-championship waters clear, Timothy Shuttleworth, of Loughborough University, and Stephen Milne, of Perth City, on 15:07.92 and 15:14.26 respectively and left to lick their wounds this time round.
The pace-setters so far this year:
Men 1500M Freestyle
ITA , 22
ITA , 23
AUS , 20
GBR , 21
POL , 21
Having stood on a podium in 2014 with Canadian Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane and Mack Horton, the Australian who would go on to claim 400m free Olympic gold in Rio, Jervis is no stranger to the big time. He was looking forward to getting back to it.
After collecting his medal and thoughts, Jervis told SwimVortex’s Liz Byrnes at Ponds Forge:
“It means everything to me. Last year at Olympic trials it was so heartbreaking, coming out of that water and knowing I hadn’t even won a medal. It was so hard to get over. But me and my support team at Swansea Aquatics, Sport Wales, the whole of Welsh swimming – we worked so hard to get over the mental and physical (side) – even my church back at home, the spiritual side of it, it has just been amazing. I am just so proud to represent everyone tonight.”
Had he had doubts about whether he could get back from the setback of 2016?
“I definitely did because last year I worked as hard as I can, you could not have worked harder than I did. To go in a race and expect to win it and then not win it, it literally is your dreams just shattered in front of you, it was devastating. But that is the life of sport, you’ve just get to bear with it.”
The race, the prospect of the world titles and what that could bring brought a beamer of a smile to Jervis’ face and plaudits from his mouth for those he had raced:
“The British boys are some of the best in the world. It was an honour to race against them today – they are such a talented bunch of boys. To be racing against people like Sun Yang* and everyone else like Gregorio Paltrinieri would be amazing. I am a young boy from the Welsh valleys: you don’t get that much. It will just be a dream.”
Jervis set out in swimming at his local Glynneath swimming pool near the village of Resolven in South Wales. He now trains with Swim Swansea, while his 2014 achievements earned him the Welsh Junior Swimmer of the Year Award.
He swam for Nexus Valley, where it all started, and then Neath Swimming Club until the age of 15 before moving to train with Swim Swansea National Performance squad. At the start of 2014, Jervis’ best 1500 was a 15.45. At nationals in April he crunched that back to 15:16, winning the 17-18 age title in the bargain and making international teams for the European Junior team for Britain and the Welsh Commonwealth Games squad.
At the continental showcase he took the European junior crown in 15.07 and joined teammates for bronze in the 4x200m free relay.
Just two weeks later, Jervis shaved his best time back a touch further to make the Commonwealth final: 15:06.60. A season away from a sub-15, perhaps? Jervis had greater ambitions: 14:55.33 is what he clocked for bronze behind Ryan Cochrane (CAN) and Mack Horton (AUS) and a touch ahead of Jordan Harrison (AUS) after a storming finish.
For much of the race it looked set to be Cochrane, Horton and a bronze for Harrison, so far back was the next wave. At the 1,00m mark, Harrison, a 14:50 man, was more than 5sec clear of next best. With 300m to go, the gap had been reduced to 3.5sec and although 18-year-old Jervis was looking good, it seemed that 6 laps would not be enough to get to the Australian aiming for bronze.
With 200m to go, the deficit was 2.5sec, and with 100m to go still 1.5sec. At the last turn: 14:27.24 to 14:28.47. Jervis, in lane 3, drove off the wall like a teenager possessed, his trail, taste and eye on the man over in lane 1. He honed in on it like a Great White bent on a seal supper.
- Harrison: 28.47 last lap
- Jervis: 26.86 – the fastest in the race. 14:55.33 – a huge personal best and ahead of Harrison’s 14:55.71. Welsh bronze, up in the stands the sounds of cheering from David Davies, the 2006 champion for Wales and an Olympic and World-Championships medallist who holds the British record at 14:45.95. [Photo: The Podium – Cochrane flanked by Horton and Jervis – images Ian MacNicol]
With that, Jervis became the 55th member of the sub-15min club, all suits, and the 49th member in a textile suit.
And there he stayed. Until today, when he placed a stick of dynamite in a millstone and blew it apart.
Charlotte Atkinson Tests 2:07 Mark To Stand In Line For Budapest Ticket
The consideration times for world titles did not stop there. Straight after Jervis came a terrific tussle in the 200m butterfly that ended with two on 2:07s.
Having claimed a first senior long-course gold with victory in the butterfly dash earlier in the meet, Loughborough’s Charlotte Atkinson added another crown to her treasury with a thumping best time of 2:07.06. Alys Thomas gave Swansea Aquatics more reasons to be cheerful in 2:07.87, with 16-year-old Emily Large, of Newcastle, on 2:09.89
The ebb and flow:
- 28.14; 1:00.29; 1:33.01; 2:07.06 Atkinson
- 28.89; 1:00.89; 1:34.10; 2:07.87 Thomas
Stunning gains. Atkinson arrived in Sheffield with a best of 2:09.93 from British University Championships earlier this year after a 2:11.59 high last year; and Thomas, like Jervis had, looks back to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth to find her previous best of 2:08.62.
Coached by Andi Manley, Atkinson agreed that there was a goal to aim at given that Britain had no ‘fly selection for Rio 2016 among women. A void to be filled?
“Definitely … I just felt there was a massive gap for a fly swimmer and I want to be that swimmer.”
What had made the difference, asked Liz Byrnes. Said Atkinson:
“I have been working so much on my technique and my strength and I think that is more important. I think you have either got the twitch or the technique and the strength and I’ve got the technique.”