Alice Tai London 2024

Morgan and Tai shine as backstroke brilliance lights up London

3 Apr 2024

Oliver Morgan broke a 15-year British record on a night that saw all four major 100m Backstroke finals serve up Paris Olympic and Paralympic nomination times on the second day at the Speedo Aquatics GB Swimming Championships. 

As well as Morgan dipping inside Liam Tancock's 2009 British best of 52.73 in the Men's 100m Backstroke finale - and clinching his ticket to a maiden Olympic Games in the process - Alice Tai served up a stunning swim on the way to multi-classification (MC) Women's 100m Backstroke victory and a Paralympic nomination time, Kathleen Dawson secured an emotional Olympic ticket with her own 100m Backstroke triumph, and Stephen Clegg took the men's multi-classification crown ahead of British record breaker William Ellard.

Oliver's post-race celebrations (below) matched his performance in the pool, as the man who did the 50m, 100m and 200m hat-trick at last year's British Championships again surged to an impressive victory over two lengths of backstroke in what was a thrilling race alongside centre-lane rival Jonathon Marshall.

The pair matched each other stroke for stroke much of the way, with Morgan pulling clear down the final 15m, surging to the wall in a time of 52.70 that bettered Tancock's decade-and-a-half-long British record and went well inside the 53.68 Olympic nomination standard to ensure he will make his Games debut in Paris, while Marshall also did a required time with a 53.03 to put himself in contention for an Olympic debut. Luke Greenbank was third.

"You can't really put it into words. If you asked me two years ago whether I'd be in this position, I'd have gone 'there is no way'. But there's not been a single blip in my training for that entire period, it's been dedication every day, and it's a credit to what we do at the University of Birmingham," said Morgan afterwards.

Oliver Morgan London 2024
Oliver Morgan

"I certainly can't complain with the times today, two 52s times in a day and a British record at the end of it. It means everything [to make the Olympic team]. The last few months leading up to this, it has been feeling what the emotions were going to be like on the day if you make it, seeing how proud my family would be, they're here. 

"You can't put it into words how it feels, it's a dream come true. I've got a big WhatsApp group with lots of different family and friends, they're supporting me on there when I'm racing, and having all those people behind me is amazing."

The backstroke theatrics continued with the Women's MC 100m Backstroke finale, which saw two 1000+ points totals amassed in a brilliant contest.

Ultimately, it was Alice Tai - back in the London Aquatics Centre pool that brought her seven world titles in 2019 - who came out on top, her time getting her more than nine seconds inside her S8 classification's Paralympic nomination standard and ensuring a tally of 1062 British Para-Swimming points, just enough to get the better of another superb Poppy Maskill performance, with Poppy powering clear of the field to threaten the S14 world record on her way to a Paris nomination standard and a total of 1047 points.

Olivia Newman-Baronius (who took bronze), Megan Neave and Georgia Sheffield all also went quicker than the S14 1:08.80 mark, with three athletes eligible for each event per classification.

Reflecting on her eye-opening journey since those 2019 World Championships, Alice said: "It's crazy, 2019 was such an insane week for me - it was a lot of things that combined in the sense of a really good block of training, a couple of competitors weren't on their best game and so it worked out incredibly for me. It's so nice to be back as over the last three years I've had surgery on three of my limbs so it's been pretty intense, but I'm getting back down towards my world records and I'd really like to go under them in Paris.

"The Paralympic team announcement isn't for a few weeks but I'm hopeful that meeting the nomination standard should have secured me a place."

One person whose place is secure on the Olympic team is Kathleen Dawson, who will be back in the Games arena after leading off the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay team to an incredible Olympic gold and world record in 2021, having battled back from serious back injuries over the past two-and-a-half years. 

She was fastest seed out of the heats and duly delivered in a stacked final, beating Lauren Cox to the touch and going inside the 59.89 nomination standard in the process. Cox claimed silver and Honey Osrin won bronze.

Kathleen Dawson London 2024
Kathleen Dawson

"I'm unbelievably grateful for the people that have got me back to this point. It has been a big test of believing in myself and my mental character, I guess. There were a lot of times that I could've just chucked it in, been like, 'I've got a gold medal at the last Olympics, I don't need to carry on'.

"But that's not what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to get back to this place, so I'm so thankful that I can actually be here, post times like that and qualify for the Olympics. 

"The dream would be to be back on that Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay, and with the times I've been posting, I've been improving each time it comes to a tapered meet over the last year and a half, so I'm looking forward to what the next cycle will bring."

Rounding out the backstroke brilliance was world champion Stephen Clegg, the S12 swimmer focusing on his own race behind an inspired William Ellard, who would go on to break the S14 British record in a 59.60 and scoring 869 points.

Clegg, though, kept his composure despite a slight tangle with the lane rope at one stage, doing enough to clinch a Paris nomination standard and the British title on 960 points. Mark Tompsett took bronze on 813.

Elsewhere on the night, Kara Hanlon kept her cool to win the Women's 200m Breaststroke, the Edinburgh University athlete sticking to her race plan after Angharad Evans burst off the blocks for the opening 100m, Hanlon pacing herself well to move past Evans and go clear for the British title. Libby Booker won silver and Gillian Kay Davey was in third.

Fourteen-year-old Amelie Blocksidge opened the second night of racing by defending her Women's 1500m Freestyle title. 

The City of Salford athlete took the race out hard and, despite a steady push from Fleur Lewis behind her, Amelie held her pace and her lead all the way to the wall, brought home by a raucous crowd. 

Stephen Clegg London 2024
Stephen Clegg

"That means a lot. I was really nervous before the race - it was only pressure I was putting on myself, there's not any pressure anybody else is putting on me. I'm really glad to regain my title!" she said.

"This venue is so nice, they've really put it together this year. All my family just support me throughout anything - even if I was to add a minute on to my time, or get a PB, they'd support me either way, so it's really nice."

Lewis was silver medallist, ahead of bronze medallist Lucie Hanquet.

Another athlete to defend a title from last year's national Championships was Joshua Gammon, who held off the challenge of Thomas Beesley to claim the Men's 200m Butterfly crown in a new personal best time of 1:56.94. The British bronze went to Henry Gray.

Amelie Blocksidge London 2024
Amelie Blocksidge

Watch the Speedo Aquatics GB Swimming Championships action online throughout this week on the C4 Sport YouTube channel, with Finals (7pm) on BBC Sport and BBC iPlayer.