Proud makes history by completing freestyle hat-trick

17 Aug 2022

Ben Proud completed his summer of dominance and Imogen Clark powered on to the European podium as the final night of swimming action at the Foro Italico saw Great Britain finish third in the medal table.

Proud became the first person ever to win world, European and Commonwealth swimming titles in the same year - doing it in the space of two months - as he took gold in a thrilling final of the Men’s 50m Freestyle.

Having been so dominant in the event over recent weeks, it was Proud’s to lose as he lined up top seed for the race - and that prospect did not seem to faze him, as he got the best start of the field.

A quick charge from a number of swimmers down the middle section of the length, including from home hero Leonardo Deplano in lane six, saw Proud under pressure as the field closed up right the way through to the final touch. 

But it was the British sprinting powerhouse who managed to get his hand to the wall first, a mere two hundredths of a second ahead of the Italian to take his third international title in as many months.

Proud’s achievement is the culmination of a season which has saw him take all three major international titles on offer in the 50m Freestyle, as well as the Commonwealth 50m Butterfly gold medal, an achievement he reflected on when speaking after the race.

“These are very strange circumstances, because three months ago I was coming to life, overcoming some problems from earlier this year and post-Olympics. Then I got to Worlds and walked into that gold medal, and it was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down, I had this opportunity to come and win these back-to-back meets," he said.

"The body was in form and I was in a good place, mentally and physically, thanks to my coaches and we thought, 'why not?!' But I tell you what, it just makes me respect the people who do this year round, because to retain your titles time after time is a hell of a job, physically, mentally, it's really tough. So all credit goes to Adam Peaty, Caeleb Dressel, the people who stand up on the blocks and can perform back-to-back all these times. Because for me, just to do it three times over two months, it was tough. But I am super grateful for everyone who has been around this year and who has brought me to this point.

"To be standing here with a third gold medal round my neck, it's a surreal feeling because the last 12 months have been exceptional and I'm just very, very grateful for everything that has happened this year."

Clark lined up as the third-fastest seed for the final of the Women’s 50m Breaststroke, and it was a seeding she lived up to as she took the bronze medal in an exciting race. 

The 2018 European silver medallist had a good start which saw her in the medals for the whole length, before she held off late challenges from a number of lanes to hold on to third place.

It is Imogen's second medal of the summer in this event, as she won silver less than a month ago at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Imogen Clark 50m Breaststroke BRONZE podium shot Rome 2022.jpg
Clark took bronze in a high quality final

“I can't believe it. To get a medal was never really in sight, I just wanted to get in and race. To stand on the podium with those two girls is something I don't think I will ever forget," she said.

"I really can't believe it all. I didn't know I was meant to be here until my selection after the Games, to get a medal is absolutely out of this world, I am so chuffed.”

There was British representation in two lanes for the final of the Women’s 200m Butterfly, with Keanna MacInnes and Laura Stephens both looking in form after qualifying second and third respectively.

The first length saw MacInnes touch second, just behind Bosnia’s Lana Pudar who took the race out. The latter’s pace continued as both Brits tried to keep speed with the three up front, a late charge from Stephens seeing her ultimately the wall in fourth, with MacInnes also on the wrong side of the chasing pack in sixth.

The Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay was the penultimate event of the competition, with Medi Harris, Kara Hanlon, Macinnes and Freya Anderson lining up for GB, as they hoped to add a final medal to what had been a strong return for the women's relay outfits. 

Harris took her usual role of leading the team off on the backstroke, handing over to Hanlon in second place at the 100m mark.

Up against a number of world-class breaststrokers on the second leg, Kara did well to hold on to the pack that was chasing the Italians, with the swimmer touching fifth, half-a-second behind second place.

It was MacInnes who was tasked with closing that gap, before Anderson - with six medals to her name already in Rome - tried in vain to get them among the medals, eventually bringing the team home in fifth place.

The Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay was the final pool swimming event of the programme at the Foro Italico, and the team of Luke Greenbank, James Wilby, Ed Mildred and Tom Dean teamed up to try to give Great Britain one final medal for the tally.

Greenbank started on the backstroke, the 24-year-old keeping pace with the frontrunners before handing over to James Wilby. As the Italians sped off into the lead, it was European 200m Breaststroke champion Wilby who managed to bring Britain back into the medal positions, handing over at the halfway point with the team in third place.

Mildred kept the group in the mix by touching just a few tenths outside of the medals following the butterfly leg, before Dean put in an admirable effort to touch just outside of the medals in fourth.

Speaking after the race, Dean reflected on what has been a summer like no other, with three major international competitions testing every competitor - and bringing a huge haul of both medals and experience for the British athletes involved.

"I was speaking to Dave [David McNulty] earlier, he said he's done 22 days of competition, solid days, over three weeks of solid competition, which is emotionally draining - all the coaching staff have done that and all the swimmers have done that. That's 22 days, 44 sessions, I'm into over 35 races personally in three months now, it's unheard of, never been done before and probably won't happen again. You can get up for them and give them your best shot, but from a physiological standpoint, there's only so much you can do," he said.

"But the focus here was to come here, enjoy racing outdoors, enjoy racing in Rome, have a great time in the relays and put together combinations we haven't done before, so from that perspective, the meet has been an absolute success - those are the positives we have to take from it, and what a place to race. 

"Racing, you can always take positives away from it and you can never have enough racing experience. So maybe doing 22 days of solid racing, two years out, will really help us down the line. Myself personally, I've been able to plan my schedule throughout the week a lot better, I'll take a lot of learnings from that - it's all stepping stones towards the big one."

British Swimming finished the European Championships third in the swimming medal table, with four golds, five silvers and six bronzes to their name.