Cast shiny suits aside and we find Max Litchfield setting the trend for Duncan Scott with his own pioneering performance on a terrific night of action at the British Championships in his home pool at Ponds Forge in Sheffield this evening: 16th swiftest all-time, a British record, 4:10.63, 400m medley.
A year to go before the Gold Coast welcomes the Commonwealth Down Under – and no man of that multi-nation, global spread of a parish has ever cracked 4:10 on a long, long-course medley.
Litchfield might be the man. A 4:10.14 is the Commonwealth record, owned by Aussie Tom Fraser-Holmes. Sheffield Steel comes next: 4:10.63 in the follow-up season to a fourth place in the Olympic final for coach Russ Barber‘s charge. What a treat for the home-pool fans. The British mark had stood to Dan Wallace at 4:11.04 since he lifted gold for Scotland at a home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
Wallace congratulated Litchfield on social media, the new holder thanking him and asking ‘this mean you’ll be making a 400IM comeback now?’ Wallace replied: ‘Looks like it, you’ve left me with no choice’. Gold Coast defence ahoy.
No-one in the world has yet cracked 4:10 over 400m medley this year, including Japan’s Olympic and World champions Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, Hungarian Rio medallist David Verraszto a tocuh ahead of them at 4:10.01 on the world rankings.
Litchfield swam into 4th just behind them today, the battle for prizes completed by Florida Gators-based Mark Szaranek, of Edinburgh Uni, on 4:15.51, the champion’s younger brother, Joe Litchfield, playing a song of siblings on the podium at 4:19.18. The 2017 pace-setters:
Men 400M Individual Medley
HUN , 29
JPN , 23
JPN , 22
GBR , 22
USA , 23
Litchfield left nothing to chance, building his lead through, stroke by stroke before confirming why we’d seen him taking bronze in 3:46 over 400m freestyle on day 1 of the meet. Last 100m free: 58.28. He’d have even beaten Ye Shiwen and her 58.6 with that one …
The ebb and flow:
- 56.45; 2:00.44; 3:12.35; 4:10.63 Litchfield the elder, 22
- 57.55; 2:03.29; 3:15.71; 4:15.51 Szaranek
- 58.66; 2:06.22; 3:20.03; 4:19.18 Litchfield the younger, 19
Litchfield emerged sporting the smile of a man with a ticket to the World Championships in Budapest in July, a new career high and a great deal to look forward to a year after qualifying for the Olympics in 4:12, saying ‘you never know what can happen when we get to Rio’ and then stepping up to 4:11 for first man home past the podium. Tonight he told SwimVortex’s Liz Byrnes:
“I knew I could do it: I was hoping to go sub-4:10. I knew I had that swim in me, I think I had it in me out in Rio, it just didn’t quite come together as well as I hoped. Fantastic to go 4:10 and dip under that qualifying time for Budapest.”
Beyond the medals: had he ever shared the podium with bro Joe before, asked SwimVortex’s Liz Byrnes: “Not at as high a level as this. It’s fantastic to see him swimming well and to do two PBs in one day for him is amazing.”
How did it all work, the brothers in swimming arms thing? Support underpinning the competition?
“Definitely. We are not the closest of brothers but we get in there and we give each other a hug beforehand and say good luck to each other and after the race we commiserate with each other and say well done. When you are in the pool at the end of the day he is another competitor and I am another competitor he has to beat. It’s a weird relationship but it works well and I am just glad to see him swimming fast.”
The tremendous gains he has made with Barber are being build on solid medley foundations. Litchfield explained: “When I was younger at Doncaster we made sure we worked hard on all four strokes. That is key as an age grouper to make sure you are focusing on the right stroke as you get older and stronger and better. IM just worked for me: I was a backstroker when I was younger, I was a fly swimmer when I was younger, it just happened that the medley came together and it was something I was good at.
“When I was younger I looked up to Phelps and Lochte but I always looked up to Pav (Rob Pavoni): I think it was 2013 I first raced him. I came third and he won, it was the international meet in Leeds, and from that point on I knew I wanted to be a medley swimmer and I looked up to him a lot and he was a massive role model for me when I was younger.”
For Litchfield the younger (and there’s is a younger sister Grace, too, who also swims and is 16) that background included someone at home to look up to and seek to emulate, too:
“Swimming with Max, he is now the fastest ever British swimmer in the 400IM and training with him and racing with him, it’s something for me to strive towards. Some day I will want to challenge him and get into that first-place battle against him. I hope I am taking the right steps to get there now and in the future hopefully I can get better and better.”