Saturday, 6 September 2014

32nd LEN European Swimming Championships, Berlin 2014

Well, would you believe it! Our nation's swimmers were designated the challenge of living up to their successes at Glasgow's Commonwealth Games and they most certainly did. We had a total of 16 medallists, the majority adding to their tally of hard-earned Commonwealth titles. I'm aiming for this to be as close to a 500-word summary of the European Championships as possible, so thus prepare for a very superficial recount in comparison to my article on Glasgow's Commonwealth Games.

I'm fully aware that this overview is the best part of two weeks behindhand however - dependant on reading the latter posts of my 30 day blog challenge - you may already know that this couldn't have been helped. Camping in the middle of nowhere, as far as an Internet connection was concerned, meant that I was unable to stay up-to-date with all the action. For reasons stated before, the majority of my future swimming-based articles can be found on Alan March Sport Ltd's website here.

The fact that a grand total of 25 European Championship medals were won in a weeks' worth of racing only begs the question of why some, if not the entirety, of this remarkable sporting event was not televised on prime channels. In my opinion, the significance of our swimmers' record-breaking performance was just as spectacular as the GB Athletics Team, if not surpassing their extraordinary efforts.

Stand-out swims came from a number of athletes, including numerous Commonwealth champions who went on to add European titles to their names all within a matter of weeks. Daniel Fogg got the ball rolling with an opening triumph in the men's 5km open water event but, for me, the stars of the show were Adam Peaty, Jazz Carlin and Francesca Halsall, partly due to the fact that they successfully claimed a total of nine gold medals between them (including team relays).

Prior to winning his third gold medal of the championships, Adam Peaty stormed way ahead of the field in his 50m breaststroke semifinal to become the first Briton to set a world best since Liam Tancock in 2009. This was, in fact, the second world record to be broken inside the 'Velodrom' as the British quartet of Chris Walker-Hebborn, Jemma Lowe, Francesca Halsall and Peaty himself had already claimed an imposing victory in the mixed medley relay.

It may have only been Peaty's second senior international meet however it has to be said that this was a meet at which he greatly excelled, forcibly propelling his name onto the world platform. Nevertheless, Adam does still have room for improvement, firstly in correcting a pivotal detail that one commentator didn't let up on - a huge glide into the wall. That and the struggle of his entertaining lane-rope mount! Here's what BBC Sport commentator, Steve Parry, had to say:

I am in awe of this young man. Not everything was right technically but there will be more to come from him. He's such a strong lad and has enormous power but he can go quicker. He glided into the finish and still broke the record - imagine if he nailed the finish.

Peaty went on to increase his tally of gold medals to four in much the same way that it was done in Glasgow, with the 4 x 100m medley relay being scheduled as the final event. The manner in which the men's team won certainly recreated that sense of national pride evoked from Glasgow having almost identically emulated their gold medal-winning performance to claim the final European title and end the season on an extreme high.

Unlike at Commies, Jazz Carlin went one better in the women's 400m freestyle final to become double European champion, plus she dropped an impressive amount of time following her performances at Glasgow's Games. The back end of her 800m freestyle final was absolutely incredible, leaving Spain's Belmonte Garcia with no chance of passing. 'Back end' referring to Carlin's final 200 metres, that is.

Carlin's performances were solid evidence of why we swimmers practise negative splitting in training; it highlighted the importance of maintaining a consistent method of pacing throughout. She may have previously battled through a couple of rough years however 2014 is most certainly Jazz Carlin's year! Also, the name may not be a familiar one in the majority of households however Jazz truly is an inspiration to many swimmers, including myself.

Now onto Francesca Halsall, the anchor leg of the aforementioned world record-breaking mixed relay team. She too has had a great year which is very much in contrast to London 2012 and thanks to a number of adjustments.

For me, it was a change of coach, a change of programme, a different environment and that's helped a lot.

There's just a little bit of a change in mindset, tweaking things here and there, because I don't think anything was broken before London.

Similar to the events that played out in Scotland, Francesca claimed two individual sprint titles; however the second was an event in which she is slightly less familiar for competing compared to its freestyle and butterfly counterparts.

Having already emerged triumphant in the women's 50m freestyle final, Halsall narrowly touched out her GB teammate, Georgia Davies, in the women's 50m backstroke final to land her third and final gold medal of the championships. And by 'narrowly' I'm referring to the sport's smallest possible margin - one one-hundredth.

These marginal time differences can bring both benefaction and cruelties, as Plymouth Leander's Ben Proud knows only too well. On the one hand, simultaneously striking the timing pads with Ukraine's Andriy Govorov meant that he bagged a joint bronze medal in the men's 50m butterfly final however Proud placed just shy of the medals in the men's 50 freestyle final having been beaten to the wall by just one one-hundredth.

As a matter of fact, this above misfortune emerged within a matter of minutes of Halsall's prior victory but before Ben's Plymouth-based training partner, RÅ«ta MeilutytÄ—, went on to assert her breaststroke excellence in the women's [50m] final.

Ross Murdoch was unable to entirely emulate his form from Glasgow and was consequently touched out by Germany's Marco Koch in the men's 200m breaststroke final. The fact that Willis came in fourth place must have been received as massively irritating due to the fact that he was denied qualification in the 100m event by the 2 per nation rule. This was an event in which he stood an even greater chance of medalling however it was in this evening that Murdoch claimed his first individual medal of the championships, placing second to the one and only Adam Peaty.

The limelight was, without a doubt, stolen by the leading names of this post however it would be unreasonably unfair to ignore Chris Walker-Hebborn as he equally contributed to the success of both previously mentioned relay teams, as well as matching his 100m backstroke Commonwealth title. In addition, he went one place better in the men's 50m backstroke to this time make the podium in third.

Walker-Hebborn's Bath teammate and partner, Siobhan-Marie O'Connor, was unfortunately forced to withdraw from the championships due to illness, although a series of Instagram posts would since suggest that she's thoroughly enjoyed her time in Venice. In addition, the highly anticipated rivalry between O'Connor herself and Hungary's 'Iron Lady,' Katinka Hosszu, was therefore under no circumstances able to materialise, resulting in the latter narrowly surpassing Siobhan's world-class marker in the absence of this contest.

First Glasgow and now Berlin - our nation's swimmers are well on their way to conquering the continent! It's also worth noting that these were Great Britain's most successful ever European Championships, although I'm not entirely sure you required me to inform you in order to deduce that fact. In addition, a number of these athletes - known as the 'Swim Stars' - have now arrived in Singapore alongside a few swimmers from additional countries in order to compete in an early-season event.

The Marina Bay Sands's urban backdrop to the group photograph in the 57th floor's open-air 'Infinity' swimming pool is absolutely breathtaking. It's certainly a pool I wouldn't mind swimming in but, then again, I seem to find myself rather oddly pondering the question of whether it would be regrettably possible to backstroke over the edge of the the world's most expensive building, standing at a grand 656 feet.

Although far more concise than before, I failed to contain my writing within the boundaries of my original target but I suppose that was quietly expected. I should finally make reference to the start of the 2014/15 season as us club swimmers do have a couple weeks' worth of respite, unlike a few of the athletes mentioned above. In my position, this hasn't been entirely worry-free, mind you. It's not that I'm struggling in my adaptation to the return of a restless schedule - as all of the training sessions that I've attended this season so far have been a very warmly welcomed contrast to before - but rather the opposite.

The uncertainty surrounding mine and my brother's swimming as a whole continues to remain, much to our despair. On the contrary, the recommencement of the 2014/15 academic year has so far established itself to justify my preceding enthusiastic excitement. I'm almost certain it'll give rise to an array of compulsive blogging sessions over the course of the following months, beginning with my Geneva adventure.

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