Luke Greenbank sealed a stunning backstroke silver and a new-look Men's 4x200m Freestyle Relay team delivered bronze at the end of a breathtaking relay effort as Britain enjoyed their night of the meet on day six of the World Aquatics Championships.
On a night where Ben Proud and Lewis Burras booked a bit of British history, Greenbank and the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle quartet rounded Britain’s tally up to a landmark 100 FINA long course medals across all World Championships.
Greenbank - already a 2019 world and Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallist in the Men’s 200m Backstroke - had compatriot Brodie Williams for company in the medal contest and, as displayed in their semi-final, very little difference was evident between the pair over the opening 100m exchange.
With USA’s Ryan Murphy in the lane between them having built a body length lead at the halfway stage, both British men delivered their own controlled race plan with poise. However, it was Greenbank who had the extra gear to blast down the back 50m, catching Murphy with every stroke and then lunge in at the wall for a brilliant silver ahead of Shane Casas (USA).
Williams followed in fourth, making great strides in lowering his personal best to 1:56.16 to soften the blow of just missing out on the podium on this occasion.
“I'm really pleased with that. This has been a bit of a hectic year, so to come away with a silver medal, it's not far off my best time, I'm over the moon!” said Greenbank
“Waiting until now for my main event, it's just part of managing the whole experience. This is my third Worlds, so I know what it's all about, keep level and not let the highs be too high or the lows be too low, the steadier you are, the better.
“I knew Ryan probably wasn't going to do what he's been doing in the first rounds, so I was just trying to block him out, swim my own race and that lane really helped me, because it meant I wasn't really close in the middle of it all and could just focus on what I needed to do.
“That medal will be really helpful and definitely boost morale - morale is already high in the team, but whenever somebody comes back with a medal, it does really help.”
A bronze for Great Britain’s quartet in the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle provided a special end to Thursday night’s proceedings - in part thanks to a mammoth anchor leg from double Olympic Champion Tom Dean off the back of James Guy, Jacob Whittle and Joe Litchfield’s essential groundwork.
Guy, in for Matthew Richards after the heats, set out a solid opening leg before handing over to Whittle to dive in for only his second international 200m relay stint after this morning’s effort. Litchfield continued the team momentum on an even footing, drawing in closer the South Korea team as he handed the baton over to Dean in fifth.
Out of the traps, Dean was firmly on the chase and hauled in the third-placed Brazilians to well within grasp at the final turn. A powerful final length from the Bath Performance Centre man pushed Britain into the podium spots to close out an incredible 1:43.53 split across the final leg.
Speaking after the race, Guy who was part of last year’s Olympic gold success noted his delight with the new-look team’s achievements: “Coming into this World Champs, we always knew it'd be a challenge to replicate what we did in Tokyo. But to get a bronze at the Worlds with quite a new team is not a bad start.
“We know Duncan is a massive part of the relay, but he's not here, we move forward and we delivered the goods when it counted - and to get a bronze, we're delighted with that.”
For Whittle, the experience felt ‘surreal’ given the 200m hadn’t been his focus in preparations for the meet, whilst Litchfield added his pride at the quartet’s accomplishments, saying:
“It was about getting as close as possible. We knew that Deano would have a fast last leg - I think Dave [McNulty] had faith it'd be a 1:43 and after seeing it, it was an incredible 1:43.5, but I knew I had to get in there and do the job," said Joe.
“I would've liked to have gone a bit faster, but at the same time, it's a World Championship final, you got in there, you've done your job and we've got ourselves on the podium. It's about making those steps to Paris, and by Paris, we should have a stronger team back for the win.”
Having provided the heroics on the anchoring leg, Dean reflected on how the energy around him in the arena had boosted his performance, remarking: “It's always a tricky one after that individual, I really hurt myself on that one, didn't swim it how I wanted to - but you get on the relay and it's a different ball game altogether. You've got the energy of the team, you've got the crowd, you're a bit more relaxed and you swim it faster.
“I knew I was on good form so I was hoping for a quick time, when you're in that arena and you're in that event, chasing someone down, really special things can happen.
“Jimmy came here five years ago and went a 1:43, it's always been like a holy grail of relay splits. Duncan then backed it up in Tokyo and went a 1:43, and it's a great honour to join that club now.”
Meanwhile, opportunity knocked for Ben Proud and Lewis Burras to create a slice of history, with Great Britain previously having never seen two men progress into a showpiece 50m Freestyle world final.
Proud looked technically supreme as he launched out of the blocks and got up into his rhythm ahead of the whitewash created by a flurry of arms across the lanes to stop the clock at 21.42 in semi-final one, with Burras getting an all-important hand on the wall in third to go near his lifetime best.
Progressing as the top seed, Proud’s performance actually saw more time between himself and the next fastest qualifier than that which separated the remaining finalists in waiting. With this his fifth world championships, Ben however knows medals are far from won in the rounds, commenting: “All these opportunities to race, you take every one that you can. If I go slower tomorrow, so be it, but I'm just going to take a lot from today and this week. I'm swimming very close to my best times for the first time in a couple of years. It's all positive, it was a good race.
“I'm super chuffed for Lewis. For his first senior meet, he's broken out, stood up to all and performed as he should, which it took me a long time to learn. He's got a really positive future and it'll be fun to race tomorrow with him by my side.”
Having stamped his own ticket to the final in fourth, Burras added: “Having watched Ben since I was the age of 13, it's always been a dream of mine to join him in that 50m Free final, to be there in the call room and on the blocks - and tomorrow we get a chance to make history.”
In the first of Britain's three finals swims on the night, Loughborough Performance Centre duo Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood lined up in the Women's 200m Breaststroke finale.
A European medallist in this event at the same Duna Arena last year, Renshaw took the race out strongly, leading at the 100m turn and sitting a promising second heading into the final lap. As the pace in the closing stages raised, though, Molly could not quite match it and ended up in sixth position.
Wood - whose programme has also included 200m Individual Medley and relay swims - placed eighth.
Reflecting on her race plan in the final, Renshaw said: "I knew after yesterday's swim that I may struggle down the last 50m, but I have to commit to that first 150m to be in the race. I did that, I knew that would be irrelevant today, it would be about getting out there and seeing who could race the best.
"I try not to think too much about who is around me, because I know one girl next to me could go out fast, the other could come back really strong. So I just try to focus on my own race plan, go for it to 150m and then see what I've got on the way home."
Ahead of his relay bronze, Guy had also been involved in the opening British action of the night, lining up with Jacob Peters in the first of the Men’s 100m Butterfly semi-finals. Peters got the better start of the pair out in lane two as the field charged down the first length, and brought himself home in a new lifetime best of 51.50 seconds - Guy remarkably touching in exactly the same time as the Bath Performance Centre based duo finished in joint 11th overall.
For full results from the finals, click here.
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