Ross Murdoch, the European champion, and Andrew Willis, fourth in the Olympic final in Rio last year four years beyond racing in the London 2012 showdown, led the way into the the 200m breaststroke battle on 2:10 and 2:11 on the fourth of six days of action at the British Championships in Sheffield this morning.
For Murdoch it will be a case of third time lucky if he lands a ticket to world titles in Budapest this July.
On 2:10.88 at the helm of heats this morning, the 22-year-old from the University of Stirling, claimed a home Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth crown ahead of Olympic silver medallist and fellow Scot Michael Jamieson in his breakthrough season with a blistering 2:07.30.
That remains his best, silver in 2:07.77 at the 2014 European Championships behind Marco Koch, of Germany, followed by setback. In nationals in 2015, he clocked 2:08.90 only to find himself locked off the world-titles team by Adam peaty and Willis.
History repeated itself a year later and on 2:09.16, Murdoch missed the cut for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, his campaign in Brazil confined to the 100m a year after claiming bronze behind Peaty over two laps at the world titles.
Murdoch jumped back on his horse after Olympic trials and clocked 2:08.33 for the European crown in London last May. Tonight, he will seek to returned to international four-lap racing for what would be his first world-titles campaign over 200m.
Beyond the clock and tough standards that demand all to step up to a time that would put them in the club of title hopes in Budapest, Bath University’s Willis is the biggest threat to Murdoch. He clocked 2:11.88 this morning, Murdoch’s teammate Craig Benson, who claimed the second berth for the Olympic 200m last year, on 2:12.31, Edinburgh’s Calum Tait on 2:12.99 and Loughborough’s James Wilby on 2:13.23. The top eight was completed by Edward Baxter, Charlie Attwood and Luke Davies.
Murdoch was feeling good when he spoke to SwimVortex’s Liz Byrnes at Ponds Forge: “I am really happy with that. I didn’t think my 100 was that fast earlier in the week. It was one of those where I didn’t really feel like I could go much faster but I didn’t really die off. I have been looking forward to swimming this too, I enjoyed the heats.” He added:
“The 200 breaststroke is absolutely stacked and we are missing one of the main players Adam Peaty from it as well so there are so many names you can add into that hat. It can go any way tonight really – it’s the exact same thing as the trials last year, everybody is as well prepared as each other. It just comes down to who wants it the most on the night and who holds their race plan and gets the job done.”
Willis was “okay” with his swim, noting: “It’s hard, a heats swim and of course never totally easy. It felt nice and long – probably a bit too long – if you are keeping it long then you are going to be putting on time quickly. I am in the final, that is all that matters.”
On the fight tonight, he said:
“It’s the same every year, it’s just going to be a fight tooth and nail down the last 50, it always is. With the standard at the moment it always will be for a while now. I’m in there, try and stick to my own race and hopefully I can do what I need to do.”
In other action this morning, James Guy, of Bath University, booked into lane 4 for the 100m butterfly final in 52.81. Another win would deliver a third gold of the meet, after victories in the 400m free and 200m butterfly, the latter ina breakthrough 1:55.9 loaded with promise.
Next through was Loughborough’s Adam Barrett in 53.00 and City of Glasgow’s Sean Campsie, on 53.49. The top 8 was completed by Sam Horrocks, Duncan Scott, on a 53.78 match with traning partner Cameron Brodie the morning after a pioneering 47.90 in the 100m freestyle, Kevin Wallbank, Calum Jarvis and Cameron Brooks-Clarke.
Said Guy: “To me it was just a heat swim, the goal is just to make it back to the final, get a lane. It felt quite controlled, I can drop some more tonight.
Asked what gives with him, Scott and the freestyle crew attacking the ‘fly events (Scott having made the podium in the 200 on 1:57), Guy told Byrnes:
“I think it’s just after the Olympic year, usually now it’s quite quiet for the next couple of years, I think we are just trying different things. I know Duncan (Scott) – it’s the Commonwealth Games next year and he can qualify here for a few events, maybe that is why we are doing different things. I’ve been doing 100 fly for a couple of years now just for the relay spot but it’s getting faster, hopefully as I get a bit older and stronger I shall start taking it a bit more seriously.”
Barrett, the man who in 2014 was racing relay splits on the cusp of Phelpsian speed, is now coached by Ian Hulme, who guided Jocelyn Ulyett to victory in the 200m breaststroke on a British record of 2:22.08. Says Barrett of Hulme and the Loughborough set-up:
“He is doing a fantastic job, we’ve got a great squad of people. Even in (coach) Andi Manley‘s squad – people like Charlotte Atkinson (200 fly) last night, we have got a great programme up there and it all seems to be coming together for everyone.”
Freya Anderson, the 16-year-old from Ellesmere Co, clocked 54.40 at the helm of the 100m free heats, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, Olympic silver medallist over 200IM last year, on 54.49. Lucy Hope, Anna Hopkin, the 50m free champion last night, 200m champion Eleanor Faulkner, Jessica Jackson, 100m back champion Georgia Davies and Kathryn Greenslade completed the top 8, all barring last in on 55s.
Charlotte Evans, Loughborough University, on 2:12.26, and Jessica Fullalove, of Bath University, on 2:12.31, led the way to the 200m backstroke final, the next six swiftest this morning Chloe Golding, Kirsty Simpson, Rosie Rudin, Candice Hall, Kathleen Dawson and Courteney Price.