Day 5 Finals
Women’s 200m Butterfly
If there was one swim that topped the league of the unexpected and quirky at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games today, it was surely Alys Thomas‘ historic 2:05.45 Games-record victory for Wales – in the very event Wales is associated with in Britain, performance head Martyn Woodroofe the Olympic silver medallist of 1968, and Jemma Lowe, the British record holder still.
Polish that perseverance award: it has Thomas’s name on it.
At 27 years old, Thomas, coached by Stuart McNarry and Adam Baker at the Swansea performance centre, entered the fray with a career best of 2:07.54, a time that, stripping away efforts in shiny suits, was good for 47th all-time. Now, she’s 10th after a leap-frogging exercise of giant proportions at her third Commonwealth Games a year after her debut world titles.
McNarry must now shave his head: if Thomas got down to a 2:06, that was the deal. He might have to lose his eyebrows, too, now. He might want to suggest blinkers for his charge in future, too. As Thomas put it when asked about how she had read the race when in it:
“I couldn’t see anything. My goggles were smudged up. So I just swam my own race.”
At 2:05.45, Thomas tops the annual rankings so far this year but the year and a better measure is a trawl of the season0-end form since 2014: she would have finished top 3 in the world in all years barring 2016 – her pace of today would have been good for fourth at Rio 2016.
There was Games record to celebrate but no national record. Now retired, Lowe, of Britain and Wales, keeps the Welsh record, at 2:05.36 from 2011, but look at some of the names on the list of folk Thomas got past today on the clock (in all-time ranking order):
Gandy (GB record at 2:04.83 in shiny suit), Hosszu, Jedrzejczak (Olympic champion, 2004), Hersey, O’Neill (Olympic champion, 1996), Hyman (Olympic champion 2000) Mary T. Meagher (Olympic champion, 1984 and timewarp legend of her sport), Thomas – Petria (World champion); and the Games record she felled had stood at 2:06.09 to Australia’s 2008 Olympic champion Jessicah Schipper since 2006 … ok, you get the drift.
So did Thomas’ rivals over four laps under floodlight this evening: out in 28.70, the first turn marked the last time she was in control of the pace but not at the helm. By the half-way turn, Thomas had a 1:00.40 to 1:00.54 edge on Emma McKeon, whose Australian teammate and pre-race No 1 on the clock, Laura Taylor was back in fifth on 1:01.33.
Down the third lap, on 32.31 for a 1:32.71 turn for home, Thomas dropped McKeon (1:34.05, from a 33.51) as Taylor moved into second, her 32.76 split leaving her at 1:33.89. Could she make up a second chasing the charge of a Welsh dragon? Not today. No chance.
Thomas put in a stunning 32.74 homecomer for the crown and Games record to become only the fourth Welsh woman in history to claim Commonwealth gold in the pool. Taylor took silver in 2:07.39, McKeon bronze in 2:08.05, the Isle of Man’s Charlotte Atkinson just out of the medals at 2:08.50.
Women 200M Butterfly (2018)
GBR , 27
AUS, Gold Coast
AUS , 19
AUS, Gold Coast
ESP , 27
GER , 29
RUS , 22
History in the Making
Pat Beavan, over 200m breaststroke in 1974, Wass the first Welsh winner in Commonwealth waters among women, while Jazz Carlin and Georgia Davies ended the drought in 2014 with victories in the 800m free and 50m backstroke. Davies booked a ticket to lane 4 for the defence of the title this evening, while Carlin finished sixth in the 800m final well down on best after a time away from the sport following her double Olympic silver success of Rio 2016. On butterfly, Lowe had been the only Commonwealth medal winner ever from Wales, with 100m bronze in 2010.
If a two-second improvement to a 2:05 on butterfly is about as big as such things get at the pointy end of business in the pool, fair to note that it has been a long time coming. Thomas was described as “a surprise winner” of the 100m Butterfly at the British Swimming Championships in April 2015, on 58.66.
She’d raced for Wales at Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014 and her 200m best fluctuated between a 2:10 in 2013 down to a 2:07 in 2017, with 20 swims in that range. At 19, she clocked 2:12 – and then plateaued unit a breakthrough in 2014 in the Commonwealth final in Glasgow, where she set a lifetime best of 2:08.62.
In 2016, Thomas, right, failed to make the Olympic team for Britain, on 2:08.87 at trials. A year later, a 2:07.87 career high landed her a ticket to a debut world titles but a 2:08.72 in heats in Budapest meant that she progressed no further. She worked on and at the Edinburgh international, without the boost of full taper, she made progress – 2:07.54. What might she do when rested as – and she puts it, citing her coach, flips the percentage from 90% physical and 10% mental in training to the reverse on race day.
A psychology student, Thomas has been working on stroke rate, endurance and a more powerful kick for the past four-year cycle, in order to be able top go out faster in the 200m without blowing a gasket. Of her set up in Swansea, she said:
“We have brilliant facilities and support staff. Stuart’s (McNarry) been my coach for nearly eight years. We’ve worked hard to get a good swimmer / coach relationship and figure out what works. It takes a long time and great patience to find the right programme and figure out what makes each other tick.”
She emerged from racing today to say the same when asked about prospects for Tokyo 2020:
“I’m 27 and this is my first medal major international medal. I’m finally breaking through now and it says something about not giving up when you are young. There is plenty of time, just be patient, work hard and it will come. I had faith in that. Work hard – and be patient.
“You can learn so much getting in any pool and any race. My coach has always said that training is 90% physical and 10% mental, but when it comes to racing it flips, so the more you can learn in these environments the better.”
Immediately after the race, she said: “What, 2.05 – a two second PB? Training has been going well and I felt good in warm-up, so I put a bet on with my coach that if I went under 2.06 I could shave his head – I guess I can do that now and splash it all over social media.” Asked who she would like to thank, she said “… everyone who has supported me…,” then, pointing up to the stands added:
“My family are all here and I’d like to thank everyone for their support.”
Born near Swansea in Wales, Thomas learned to swim as a baby and joined Kingston Royals SC at the age of 5, She graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2015 and has spent some time putting theories into practice in the pool. She recalls of her time at university:
“It took me a total of 6 years from the time I initially enrolled to finish it – I deferred 2 years whilst I focused my time on Commonwealths 2010, took 2 years full time, then took 2 years part-time whilst I prepared for Commonwealths 2014.”
Much water and work under the bridge since …