It was double delight in the final two events at the European Aquatics Championships, as Great Britain’s swimmers enjoyed their most successful European Championships in history.
A pair of medley relay golds – both with the added bonus of a Championship record – were the icing on the cake at what has been a memorable week in Budapest. All in all, the team won a whopping 26 medals, 11 of which were gold.
The Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay was the very last race of the entire competition – and it was fitting that after having the Women’s 100m Backstroke Championship record taken away from her due to a re-swim on Friday night, Kathleen Dawson would propel Britain into a gigantic lead on the opening leg, breaking both the British and European record in the process.
European 200m breaststroke champion Molly Renshaw extended the lead further, before Laura Stephens and Anna Hopkin brought the team home well clear of the rest, stopping the clock in 3:54.01 to take Russia’s Championship record, a British record to boot.
Speaking afterwards of her European record over 100m of backstroke, Dawson said:
“It's great to finally get it, especially here. It's amazing seeing the British team doing so well - it was amazing seeing Cassie and then the boys win tonight, that really lit a fire under me so I think I knew I was going to make it.”
“In general, the whole week, GB have just been smashing it. The relays especially have done so well and won so many golds. Coming into this and watching the boys in the call room win gold, we were just so pumped behind the scenes. We knew that if we were all swimming best times, we could be up there on top of the podium. It's nice that we all delivered and Kat got a European record, so it's amazing, we’re really happy.”
As Renshaw mentioned, a crack quartet clinched the Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay title, their winning time of 3:28.59 taking almost two seconds off their old Championship best mark, set in Glasgow three years ago.
With four individual medallists in the team, their rivals were going to be hard pushed to challenge them and so it proved, as the Brits dominated again to win by nearly a full second. Luke Greenbank got the ball rolling before Adam Peaty put the team out in front. Less than an hour after winning bronze in the individual event, James Guy produced a phenomenal 100m butterfly split, meaning Duncan Scott had what seemed like an unassailable lead. So it proved, Scott sweeping all before him to bring the team home emphatic winners.
“For us, that's just quite exciting - for us to be able to do that on the last night, it really is exciting for what is to come in the summer. You can look at so many different areas of that that we can improve on individually but then also as a team as well – we can’t wait for Tokyo.”
“It's some great swimming, I've never really been this fast in relays, never mind doing it without a proper taper or rest - it's looking very strong. We couldn't have done that without the guys swimming the heats this morning, so it's a great team effort all round.”
As Peaty mentioned, Joe Litchfield, James Wilby and Tom Dean all produced top-drawer swims earlier in the day, meaning tonight’s line-up could come in fresh. Exactly the same applies for the women’s quartet, with Cassie Wild, Sarah Vasey, Harriet Jones and Freya Anderson flying the flag for Great Britain in the morning. All seven swimmers will also leave Hungary with European gold medals.
That brace meant Britain won no fewer than seven of the nine relay golds on offer this week, taking silver in the other two.
Earlier, Cassie Wild capped off a brilliant week with the swim of her life to take European silver in the Women’s 200m Backstroke final. Having made the final of both the 50m and 100m events, the 200m was more of an unknown for the Bradley Hay and Steve Tigg-coached swimmer, but after lowering her personal best to 2:09 in the semi-finals, it was clear she could be a medal threat.
Few, however, would have predicted another two-second drop, as she obliterated her new PB with a 2:07.74 swim, which is inside the Tokyo consideration time and steered her onto the podium at her maiden European Championships.
A delighted Wild said:
“I can't stop smiling - you can't tell because of my mask, but I can't believe it! I actually can't quite believe that, because it's been such a tough week with how much I've been racing. For me, it's a lot - normally I get to the end of a three-day meet and feel like I need a break!
“The 200m is always something I didn't like, to be honest, I'd always try to avoid doing it! But everyone has said that with my stroke I could do a good 200 back and I used to say no! Now I've done one, so I'm probably going to be doing a few more 200 backs! I knew I was quite fit, but I didn't think I'd drop a 2:09 and then a 2:07 in the 200m, so I'm absolutely thrilled - I can't put a sentence together!”
Sixteen-year-old Katie Shanahan also delivered the swim of her fledgling career, dipping under 2:10 for the first time to finish a fantastic sixth on her senior Britain debut – there is no doubt she has an extremely bright future ahead of her.
There was also a superb silver for Ben Proud in a fast and furious Men’s 50m Freestyle final, the decorated sprinter adding another medal to his collection. Drawn in lane two, Proud was able to focus on his own race and it paid off, as he went quicker than his semi-final to secure silver.
Proud was happy with the outcome, but just saw the medal as a silver lining:
“It's all about practising the round-to-round swims, working on the little details and getting faster each time. We're not fresh, we're not ready, that will come in two months. Right now, it's about getting yourself into the race, trying to get your hand onto the wall.
“It's great racing against these guys. I've been racing against Ari [Ari-Pekka Liukkonen] for a long time now, so it was great to be a part of that race and great to see him become European champion.”
James Guy was a popular medal winner as he delivered the goods in the Men’s 100m Butterfly final, taking a brilliant bronze medal with another world class swim. Having dipped under 51 seconds for the first time in four years to win his semi-final, Guy wanted and expected to be in the medal shake-up, and that he was. In the thick of it at the turn, it was a closely-fought contest for the minor medals down the final length, Guy showing great fight to clinch bronze, afterwards saying:
“It's been a long, long week, five days’ worth of racing and your main event is the sixth day, so I’ve started my campaign in the fly quite late in the week. To get under 51 again after last night is amazing, it shows I'm in a good place what I'm doing with Dave [McNulty] at the Bath National Centre is working.
“There's an old saying, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. I've always believed that and I've always believed that what's meant to be won't pass me by. It just shows to keep the mentality, keep going and don't give up. It's been four years since I last went 51 and I've done it twice this week. I can't wait for Tokyo now. Training with Tom Dean has helped massively, and my girlfriend, everything is coming together in and out of the pool.”
There was a further bronze in the Men’s 400m Individual Medley, Max Litchfield digging deep into his reserves to elevate himself into a medal-winning position down the final freestyle leg. Although sixth after the opening butterfly leg, the Dave Hemmings-coached swimmer was never far away, but it was only down the final 50m, when he turned on the afterburners, that he got himself up into a podium position.
“I'm really happy with that. I would've liked to have been higher up the medals, I always would, but to come away with a medal from a meet where we're not fully rested is great. It's a good drop from trials and I swam better, tactically and technically, than trials - its positives all round and it looks good going forward,” he said.
“You can't help what other people do, I've just got to get in there and do my best. The way I'm swimming and the way I feel when I'm swimming, it feels like I did in 2016 and 2017, and that's the way I swim it best, coming back fast.”
Things were agonisingly close for Sarah Vasey in the Women’s 50m Breaststroke final, as she missed out on a medal by 0.01 seconds. The Mel Marshall-coached breaststroker has enjoyed a brilliant week, placing sixth in the 100m final and now fourth in the shorter event in her fastest time for four years.
Naturally though, she was disappointed to come so close to getting her hands on some silverware, commenting:
“Obviously its bitter sweet! That’s the fastest I've been in four years with my PB from 2017 trials, and I've not really been near that since. I'm trying to think positively, but obviously it's so frustrating being 0.01 off a medal. My focus is the 100m, that's what I'm going to the Olympics for, so this is just a bonus event. My strength has felt really good, so that's another positive and my start, which has always been my weakness is getting better every time I swim, so I'm taking the positives from it.”
Last but not least, Holly Hibbott went in the very last individual race of the week, the Women’s 400m Freestyle final, taking eighth place from lane one.
Great Britain’s swimmers amassed a total of 26 medals, 11 gold, nine silver and six bronze, to top the medal table ahead of Russia and Italy.
Full results can be found here