The 2013 British Gas International, which gets underway on Thursday at the John Charles Centre for Sport in Leeds, northern England, features a strong line-up of world-class swimmers and the entire national team from Britain.
Team Arena, a group of elite competitors sponsored by the Italian swim kit company, has put together a package of interviews outlining the plans, business and pleasure, of some of the biggest names heading to the event.
Plymouth-based 15-year-old Ruta Meilutyte, of Lithuania, aims to capitalise further on her Olympic 100m breaststroke crown at London 2012. Meilutyte, coached by Jon Rudd, took the 50m and 100m breaststroke world s/c titles in Istanbul to cap a great 2012. She has also shown great potential on sprint freestyle and short medley.
“Training is going well and I've raced twice so far with very pleasing results," she says. :Going into Leeds, I just want to see how I'm progressing with my training this early in the season, and I'm not doing anything different. I won't rest until the summer.” Barcelona World Championships is the big aim, while she will also take on the World Junior Championships in Dubai at the end of August. In between the two, she has something special planned: “I'm really looking forward to seeing the family that I have in Lithuania and spending some time with them.”
Double Olympic sprint freestyle champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) is taking on five events in Leeds: 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle, 50m backstroke, and 100m butterfly.
Ranomi’s London heroics earned her a well-deserved break in the latter half of 2012: “After the Olympics I took a few months off to do some other things than swimming, but after a while I really started missing the daily training and competitions. So I was really happy to get back to the pool and train professionally again.”
Going into the Leeds meet, her goals are modest: “I’m looking forward to swimming my first serious competition since the Games in London. After a training camp of three weeks in Thailand with the Dutch National Team, I’m excited to see how far along I am at this moment. This will also be the first meet with my new coach Marcel Wouda.”
Beyond the British Gas meet, her goals are both simple and ambitious: “At the beginning of April I’ll swim the Dutch National Swim Cup in Eindhoven; this will be the trials for the World Championship later this year in Barcelona. For me the World Championships in Barcelona at the end of July, beginning of August, will be the most important event of this year. Hopefully I can swim my best races there this summer.”
Francesca Halsall (GBR), European and Commonwealth champion in 2010 and Olympic finalist in London last year, will race against Kromowidjojo in the 50m and 100m freestyle a week after four wins at the Mediterranean meet in Marseilles.
“This year’s started really well,” said Halsall. “it’s exciting having a new coach and it was great to get back into training. I’ve done a good block of winter training and things are feeling good in the pool.” Of her ambitions in Leeds and the rest of the year, she says: “I’ve been working on my race plan and tidying up my starts and turns. After the British Champs we have trials, and then I’ll be looking to swim fast at the World Champs in Barcelona.” Away from the pool this year, she’s “hoping to visit Tuscany and eat lots of great Italian food!”
Hannah Miley (GBR), European and Commonwealth 400m medley champion and world short-course champion in the same event, is heading for a busy four days in Leeds: 200m and 400m IM; 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle; 100m breaststroke; and 200m butterfly and backstroke.
Hannah reflected on how 2012 ended and where she’s headed this year: “I finished last year with my best short course season ever, so now I need to try and put the work into a long course pool. I’ve had a couple of long course competitions at the start of this year, and so far things are heading in the right direction. My main target is to qualify for the World Champs, and hopefully if that’s successful, then to race at the Worlds in July.” As far as non-swimming events are concerned, she added: “I have my graduation in July to look forward to,” and then raised the prospect of something entirely different: “I'd love to go and work at Harnas (wildlife sanctuary in South Africa); whether I do that this year or next, it’s a big dream for me.”