Golden freestyle relay team defend European crown

13 Aug 2022

The Women's 4x100m Freestyle Relay team secured Britain's first gold of the European Aquatics Championships in Rome after a thrilling final - while Freya Colbert and Luke Greenbank got themselves on the podium with a pair of bronzes.

The highlight of night three at the Foro Italico was that session-closing women's freestyle relay, as Lucy Hope, Anna Hopkin, Medi Harris and Freya Anderson lined up in search of more relay success for the Brits, following Women's 4x200m Freestyle and Mixed 4x100m Medley medals on the opening two evenings. 

University of Stirling's Hope laid the foundations for the success with a solid opening leg, handing over to Hopkin with the British foursome third, less than one tenth off the Italians in second. From there, Loughborough Performance athlete Anna clocked the third-fastest split of the entire race, overtaking the Italians to put GB second at the halfway stage.

Swansea University competitor Harris again went on to emphasise her valuable versatility, diving in less than an hour after her 50m Backstroke semi-final to keep the team right in medal contention, moving them to within half-a-second of Sweden at the front of the race, before anchor specialist Anderson took over.

Freya (Bath Performance Centre) was also swimming her second race of the night after the 200m Freestyle semi-final, but there was no sign of fatigue as she cut down the entire Swedish lead in the opening 50m with a powerful surge, completing the victory down the home straight to touch nearly a second ahead of their nearest rivals, defending the European title from Budapest in 2021 in the process.

It was a third medal in as many days for Anderson and Harris, with the latter still relishing being a part of successful GB relay efforts.

"I keep saying it, but I'm really honoured to be able to be on the team with these girls. It wasn't long ago that I was watching them in Tokyo do really well, so I'm really happy to be able to defend the title they won last time at Europeans and bring home a gold for GB," said Medi.

Anna added: "It was amazing. It's our first gold of the competition, I think everyone has come in here without too many expectations with it being a really hard and busy year. Moments like that make the pain worthwhile, obviously with coming into our third major international meet, it is hard and you have to work that little bit harder to get yourself up for races and get yourself in prime condition. But we all put together a really good race and I'm really proud of us. 

Women's 4x100m Freestyle Relay podium wave Rome 2022
Waving from the podium

"This is a relay that we are really focusing on going into Paris. We've put together really good relays throughout the year, and to come out at the end of it with a gold at the European Champs and defend our title, it puts us in a really good position going forward."

Anderson said: "It's a really good feeling. I think my last individual is tomorrow, so get that done and then there's more relay fun, so hopefully we can stand on top of the podium a couple more times, that would be lovely!"

For Hope, moving things on individually was a pleasing factor too.

"I was happy to go faster than in my individual, and to get the gold with the girls, it's what we came here to do, as defending champions there's a bit of pressure - but I think we all knew that if we put four good legs together, we could get the gold. We all had four good swims, so I'm really happy with tonight," she said.

That triumph was the third medal of the night for British Swimming, as they scored a hat-trick of podium placings for the second successive evening.

Before that, Freya Colbert picked up her first individual medal on the senior international stage, a brilliant and brave swim delivering her bronze in the Women's 400m Individual Medley.

Colbert - who trains with Nova Centurions - grasped the initiative within the first 50m of butterfly from lane two, attacking the race to lead at halfway after a strong 100m of backstroke.

She remained in contention for the title during her well-paced breaststroke, and while the early pushes meant she was unable to kick on during the closing 100m of freestyle, Freya had built enough of an advantage over the chasing pack to ensure she touched in third and picked up that memorable bronze.

Asked to reflect on how she felt about making her World Championship debut and winning European and Commonwealth medals in the space of two months, she said: "I always wanted to do that, but I wasn't necessarily expecting the dream to come true this year.

Freya Colbert 400m IM BRONZE podium shot Rome 2022.jpg
Freya Colbert (right) won bronze in the Women's 400m Individual Medley

"I had a tough year last year, but this one has just been amazing, going higher and higher each time. I'm so happy to have a first individual international medal - the relays were really great, but I'm happy to have this one all to myself too.

"I'm really happy. I feel I raced it well, went out there and got in the mix. I slightly paid for it at the end, I was quite close to the silver but I'm happy to make the podium. It was similar to my time in the Commonwealth Games final, so just to have the consistency two weeks later has boosted my confidence quite a bit."

In the same race, Katie Shanahan – who won her own first senior individual international medal 24 hours earlier in the 200m Backstroke – swam outside Colbert in lane one and placed seventh.

The opening medal of the night was the first individual one for Britain's men in Rome, as Luke Greenbank closed his 200m Backstroke programme for this packed summer with a bronze medal to his name.

The Loughborough Performance Centre man had moved things on well from heat to semi-final, and despite needing to manage his energy at this stage of the season, he started at enough of a pace to keep up with those looking to take the race out in the centre lanes.

Luke is always strong as the race builds, and so it proved again here, holding firm in the closing 50m to add European bronze to his World Championship silver from Budapest in June.

"I knew how I was feeling coming into this one, but I just wanted to get the best out of myself today, and to go 1:56.1, I'm pretty happy with that," he said.

"I swam my own race, just tried not to focus on what was going on around me and to come away with something after a disappointing Commonwealths is ideal, really.

"To be honest, I was probably a little bit hard on myself at Commonwealths, the fact it was a home Games with family in the crowd probably just made it worse. It wasn't what I wanted, it wasn't what I think I could've swam, but it was a mess-up of race tactic, got a little bit lost in what everyone else was doing and it was an easy fix.

"So to come here, I'm in a more fatigued space off the back of Commies, so to be able to go back to the drawing board, work out what I need to do to get the best swim out of myself and also relax and enjoy it a bit more, that set me up well to come away with a medal tonight. I had no expectations coming into it, so to get the medal is a real bonus."

Luke Greenbank 200m Back BRONZE Rome 2022.JPG
Luke Greenbank

Tom Dean and Kara Hanlon were the other Brits involved in finals on the third night at the Foro Italico. Dean was going in the Men's 100m Freestyle finale, an event that saw him take Commonwealth silver earlier this month. 

Racing from lane eight, the double Olympic champion ultimately touched seventh in a fierce contest that saw the world record broken by David Popovici of Romania.

Hanlon, meanwhile, was not quite able to replicate the pace that saw her clock a new personal best in the Women's 100m Breaststroke semi-finals on Friday. This time around, in the final, she placed eighth at the end of her first senior international final.

Booking a lane for finals on Sunday, Medi Harris looked in good, pacey form yet again in the Women's 50m Backstroke, ranking joint-second-fastest across the two semi-finals as she eyes another podium opportunity. Lauren Cox agonisingly missed out on her maiden European final, touching 0.01s off the top eight after an encouraging semi-final burst that saw her make a real statement over the opening 30m.

Others to ensure they will be back individually on Sunday night were Freya Anderson and James Wilby. Anderson preceded her brilliant relay exploits by clocking the fourth-fastest time in the Women's 200m Freestyle semis, sticking with the more purposeful opening 100m tactic that served her well in the event of half the distance earlier in the meet.

Wilby also started with intent in his Men's 200m Breaststroke semi-final, lying third in his race at the halfway stage and in control of a finals spot. While he tightened slightly down the home straight, he had enough to qualify in eighth and ensure another podium push is open to him. Greg Butler - another gaining valuable experience with every swim in Rome - was 14th.

The Men's 100m Butterfly saw Ed Mildred clock a second personal best in the space of one day. Having lowered his time from European Junior Championships in 2021 during the heats, the Bath Performance Centre athlete knocked a good chunk off again in the semis, his 51.79 so nearly guiding him into the final. In the end, he was ninth, one tenth off that crucial eighth qualification spot. Behind him, relay medallist Jacob Peters finished 13th. 

For more info on results, start lists and how to watch every session of swimming on the BBC, click here.