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Commonwealth Preview: Will Hosts Win Gold?

Apr 30, 2014  - James Parrack

 As we wait for the announcement of the English team, where up to 36 swimmers can be selected, it is worth taking a moment to consider the home nations chances at a Games that many consider will be the toughest yet, and what it all means ahead of Rio in two years’ time.


It is a fool’s game to predict medal winners from rankings heading into an event, but the rankings this year are looking particularly ominous for the home nations, with only 6 British swimmers topping the current Commonwealth rankings.  Add New Zealand’s triple world bronze medallist Lauren Boyle to the lists and the gold medal count begins to look even more fragile.


England only have three swimmers in gold medal positions: Sophie Taylor (100 breast), Fran Halsall (50 fly) and Aimee Willmott (400IM).  Wales have two: Jaz Carlin (800 free) and Georgia Davies (50 back), and Scotland have one: Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson (200 breast).  Of the six, only Jamieson is a strong chance to win.


We can also add Halsall as a good chance and either Willmott or Hannah Miley in the 400IM, and Davies or Lauren Quigley in the 50 back.  And then of course there are the unknowns: the juniors.  And this is where both England and Scotland are looking for longer term success.  For England, Siobhan Marie O’Connor, Sophie Taylor, Lauren Quigley, James Guy, Adam Peaty and Ben Proud are among the names of the future, and for Scotland, Ross Murdoch is high in the world breaststroke rankings, where Commonwealth swimmers excel, along with Craig McNally and Daniel Wallace.


In many events, the rankings are very tight and of course anything can happen.  But this is all a very long way from the 9 gold from Delhi (ENG 7, SCO 2), 15 gold from Melbourne (ENG 8, SCO 6, WAL 1) and 11 gold from Manchester (ENG 10, SCO 1).


British swimming head coach, Bill Furniss however, is not looking at medal counts in the conversations he has with his coaches and athletes. “Our conversations are more along the lines of have we gone forwards in world terms?  Did we compete at the meet? Are our best performances coming at the key stage meet rather than at the trials?  These are our measures.” he said.  “And I was encouraged by the results from the home nations trials where all will be competing for medals. But Australia and South Africa are very strong and it will be tougher than ever to win medals.”


It is a sentiment that echoes around the elite programmes of the world, with the sport psychologist mantra ‘focus on the performance rather than the outcome’, and Ally Whyke, performance director of Scottish Swimming is of a similar mind.  “The Games will be a very fast meet in a great environment so you have got to compete hard. Some events are truly world class and there will be very few soft medals.  Our expectation is to race hard in the heats which is what we emphasised at the Scottish Nationals.

“Managing expectations is hard ahead of a home Games and rankings aren’t the full story.  We have to focus on our own preparation. There will always be talk around medals but we can only get in the best shape possible and be ready to race and ready to enjoy it.  It’s the process and what the outcome is what it is and you have got to trust that.  It’s not good for the politicians but that’s what it is for the athletes and coaches.”


The broader undercurrent to the Games is what this all means two years from Rio.  British Swimming had their funding cut by UK Sport after underperforming in London, and this year, women’s water polo and Synchro have both had their funding stopped altogether.

Furniss is looking at the same rankings as everyone else but, like Whyke, separates the political conversations from the athletic.  “They key meet for us is the Commonwealth Games, being in the UK and with such high profile.  British Swimming and UK Sport have agreed that that is the meet upon which the performances will be judged and investment decisions will be made after Glasgow.”


With the Europeans and Pan Pacs coming a few weeks after the Games, Furniss is looking at Berlin as a development meet for the juniors mentioned above.  “We know you don’t need to win medals in the year before the Olympics to win medals at the Olympics, but you probably need to be in the top half dozen in the world and juniors can develop very quickly.  Katie Ledecky is the obvious example.  So we will probably take 12 senior and 12 juniors to Berlin, although we don’t know who they will be at this stage.”