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Who to watch at British trials

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Ollie Williams | 00:11 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

In the spring, a young swimmer's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of gold.

But if you want to be leaping onto the podium at the European Championships in Hungary this August, or holding your arms aloft in victory at October's Commonwealth Games in India, you first have to get into the team.

This is where that process begins. Over the next six days, the British Championships at Ponds Forge in Sheffield will kick off the qualification process for the various Commonwealth teams and the British squad for Europeans.

With no international rivals, it could be tempting to write this event off as a minor matter. But complacency here means missing out on the chance for major medals later in the year. No British swimmer can afford to take trials lightly.

Who, then, will make the grade in 2010? There are exciting new stars breaking through the established ranks, and not even household names like Rebecca Adlington can rest on their Olympic laurels.

I've been speaking to top British swimmers and BBC experts Steve Parry and Karen Pickering to help pin down the ones to watch.

Left-right: Jazmin Carlin, Caitlin McClatchey, Rebecca Adlington, Jo JacksonYour freestyle contenders: (left-right) Carlin, McClatchey, Adlington and Jackson. Photo: Getty Images

Age: 19 Commonwealth team: Wales Events: 200/400/800m freestyle
Up against: Rebecca Adlington and Jo Jackson

Jazmin Carlin is the hot name in British swimming in 2010. In February, she had the beating of the far better-known freestyle pairing of Adlington and Jo Jackson at the Britain v Germany meet in Swansea.

"The biggest story of the week is whether Jackson and Adlington can fend off young Carlin in the 400m free," says 2004 Olympic bronze medallist Parry.

"You've got an Olympic champion and a world silver medallist there, and then you've got this 19-year-old girl who beat them both, and that's very exciting.

"I think it's going to be a fascinating race and Carlin should feature in the 200m free and 800m free as well.

"Things in those events are looking incredibly strong for the Olympic Games in 2012, and at the Commonwealth Games before that, with Carlin representing Wales, the other two swimming for England and Caitlin McClatchey representing Scotland."

Pickering adds that while splitting into various home nations for the Commonwealth Games makes qualifying there less stressful, there are only two places up for grabs in the British team for the European Championships.

"The women's freestyle events are going to be the most exciting," she says. "In terms of the European Championships it's going to be really tight - Carlin has done so well and Jackson has had a difficult winter with illness and injury (see below), while Adlington looks like she's getting back to really good form.

"Meanwhile, the change of suits (2009's ultra-fast non-textile swimsuits have been banned since 1 January) will benefit someone like McClatchey, who's very small and who wouldn't have got as much out of the suits as some of the bigger girls."

Another victory or two for Carlin here would push her firmly into "next Adlington" territory in the media, but Pickering says the Swindon-born swimmer has been turning in the performances for some time - albeit under the radar.

"I was really excited by how she swam in Swansea but that was just a meet in Swansea, people weren't tapered," she says - tapering being the process swimmers go through of easing up on their training schedules before major meets.

"It's difficult to use that as a gauge other than the fact she looked very smooth, comfortable and tidy. There were a lot of positives but I was more impressed with how she swam at last summer's World Championships.

"Under pressure as the fourth swimmer in the relay, she was the one who needed to perform and not be perceived as the weak link. Twelve months on I'm really excited because of what I saw last summer."

Wise words from a woman who herself has a world relay gold medal to her name, but there is also a note of caution for Carlin.

"She has beaten both Jackson and Adlington but everyone knows you screw that up, throw it away and start afresh. Adlington is a 'big gamer', she rises to the top on the big occasions and she won't be a pushover.

"That said, I've done predictions for every race and I've gone for Carlin in the 200m and 400m."

Gemma SpofforthSpofforth occupies the vastly different world of American swimming. Photo: Getty Images

Age: 22 Commonwealth team: England Events: 50/100/200m backstroke
Up against: Lizzie Simmonds

Swimming is a big deal in the United States, and so is Spofforth - of which more slightly later in the week.

For now, it's best not to get too excited about seeing Spofforth in action at Ponds Forge, as she's coming off the back of a nail-biting climax to the US national championships, where competitive swimming generates the kind of atmosphere you find at football matches in the UK.

The 22-year-old led the University of Florida to victory and faced a major media conference afterwards, of the kind most British swimmers can only expect if they win an Olympic medal.

With that in mind, it may be understandable that British trials don't hold quite the same allure for Spofforth, whose Americanised accent still occasionally strays back to British for the odd word.

"It's going to be a case of working off of fumes and doing as much as I can just to make the Commonwealths, then going back to the US to focus on preparing for them," she told me on the phone from Hartlepool - always a step up from Florida.

Spofforth is the 100m backstroke world champion and world record-holder but she now finds herself under pressure from 19-year-old Lizzie Simmonds.

"Lizzie is one of my best friends," says Spofforth. "She has an amazing personality and she's an amazing swimmer.

"Having that competition is one of biggest things you need in swimming to push each other. I really believe both of us, together, can push each other - maybe not quite so much this week but certainly to further our careers over the next two years. It's great to have someone that close to me."

Liam TancockTancock pounds the water in delight having set a 50m world record last year. Photo: Getty Images

Age: 24 Commonwealth team: England Events: 50/100/200m backstroke
Up against: Matt Clay but in reality, not a lot

The affable Tancock is one of the easiest men in sport to interview, knowing, as he does, no way of giving a short answer to a question.

I called him before trials to discover he had just blown the fuses in his kitchen while trying to make toast and boil the kettle at the same time, a domestic disaster he shrugged off in the same way he dismisses the year of crazy times and swimsuit questions that all swimmers have had to endure.

"It's a bit of a strange season with nobody really knowing what's going to be a good time," he said, two months after 2009's ultra-fast suits were thrown out of the window - and probably ritually burned by swimmers desperate never to hear of them again.

"Once 2010 is out of the way and we've got an understanding of times, and who's going to be there or thereabouts, we'll know a little bit more.

"But in the men's backstroke not a lot has changed to be honest - the main people making finals and winning medals have been the same since I've been part of that group. I expect a few new faces leading up to London, but the main group of guys are still going to be pushing for those spots as well."

Certainly, from a British point of view, Tancock faces few real challengers in his backstroke events. Barring complacency at trials, or an Exeter City defeat on Friday, he should sail through.

"Whenever I'm at the pool the focus is on the swimming - but obviously I'll keep an eye on the score," he admits when I mention relegation-threatened City's game against Colchester, which takes place a few hours before his 100m backstroke final.

"I'll have the phone handy and get some updates on Twitter. It's close but recently we've had a lot of draws, we just need to sneak a win. Maybe I'll take my Exeter City shirt with me."

Speaking of Twitter, Tancock has been a revelation on the sort-of-micro-blogging service, with updates ranging from the sheer number of frogs on the roads to photos of cows - alongside some swimming talk, of course.

"I never really thought people were interested in swimming, apart from the people involved in it. But now I've discovered people do care and do want a bit of input," he says.

"I got a Blackberry so I could tweet a bit easier. It helps people get to know me as a person, not just as a swimmer. We only really get interviewed on TV just after a race, for 30 seconds when we're tired, and it's not the people we are.

"People ask for advice, or they want to ask what things are like for me, or they just say hello. I'd say I'm a nice guy, pretty approachable, and that's the impression I want to give. I'm just me and I think it's great that I can speak to people as me."

Who would Tancock recommend for others to follow on Twitter? Triathlete Will Clarke. "I used to live with him and he's done great things in the sport and loves what he does."


Michael Rock (200m fly) - beat US legend Michael Phelps, admittedly using an ultra-fast suit unlike Phelps, at the GB v US Duel in the Pool in December. "I don't like to talk about Michael Rock - he was born in Liverpool and broke my record," jokes Parry. "But I think he's shown some great performances. He won't come up against too much competition in the 200m fly but it'll be a good benchmark for the rest of the year."

Fran Halsall (100m free) - one of the few GB swimmers to win events at Duel in the Pool. Parry again: "Will Fran Halsall continue to show improvement? If you're looking at the characters who could win medals in 2012, look at Halsall in the 100m free - her blue riband event. I'd like to see if she's moving forward."

Jo Jackson (200/400/800m free) - would normally be a real contender but pole-axed by severe asthma over the winter. Has already said she won't be up to much at trials or anywhere in the first half of the year. The verdict of Pickering, who herself swam with asthma: "I'm sure she must have some knowledgeable people and a lot of support, and I really hope they sort her asthma out because it would be devastating if it has an effect on her career, just when she was getting so good."


This list is by no means exhaustive, there being rather a large number of British swimmers out there. Who will you be looking out for during British trials, and who could yet burst onto the scene in time to make a splash at London 2012? Let me know your thoughts. Don't forget you can listen to the finals on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, with highlights and interviews on the BBC Sport website.



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