Matthew Richards took the British title and powered under the World Championship qualification time as a thrilling Men's 200m Freestyle final ensured the 2023 British Swimming Championships went out with a bang on Sunday night.
In what is always a hotly-anticipated curtain call at a British Championships, the four-lap contest - which featured four Olympic champions and seven Olympians overall - did not disappoint from the very start.
Bath Performance Centre man Tom Dean led at the first turn from lane four, with the entire field hot on his heels. James Guy did not let his teammate have it all his own way though, as he maintained his presence in second place by going stroke for stroke with the reigning Olympic champion in the event as the race reached the halfway stage.
University of Stirling’s Duncan Scott kept with the leaders throughout the race from what proved to be a difficult lane one, but it was Richards (Millfield) who made his mark down the third length – moving himself up into second place and blowing the race wide open ahead of the final length.
Breathing away from Richards, Dean’s strong pace dropped challenges from Guy and Scott as the length progressed, but it was Richards who stole the show by taking inches out of Dean’s lead with every passing stroke before ultimately sealing the win and qualifying for this summer’s World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka with a time of 1:44.83.
Dean’s performance was enough for a clear silver medal as he also went under the qualifying time with a time of 1:44.93. Guy took the bronze and Scott finished in fourth place – the pair making consideration times with times of 1:45.85 and 1:45.90 respectively, as a sign of the ongoing world-class strength in this field.
Reflecting on his race and what may still be to come, Matt said: "I'm really happy with that. There are still lots of things to move on and improve on, I probably didn't push it on enough in that middle 100m. The plan was to race the race at the end of the day, there was probably a slightly faster time than that, I felt I had a bit more in the tank at the end which is promising for the summer.
"But I'm pretty sure that's world number one and two, I don't think we've had that since Tokyo when Duncan and Deano were one and two, so that's very promising for the summer and hopefully we can move it on there.
"There's lots of big fish in the sea in these events nowadays. There are guys out there going really quick, young guys, old guys, it doesn't matter anymore. This is a great place to try new things and learn stuff to take into the summer. That's the plan now, full steam ahead, back in training and get on ready for a big summer."
An Olympic, world and European medallist over individual and relay disciplines, Dean was quick to highlight what another eye-catching race means for the British Swimming team moving forward.
"That was a world-class final. Two boys doing 1:44s, we haven't had that since Olympic trials in 2021 when Duncan and I did it and then we went on to win the 4x200m Free at the Olympic Games with Matt, Jimmy, Duncan and Jarv [Calum Jarvis]," he said.
"It just bodes really well for that Men's 4x200m Free in the summer again - the one last year was good, but we know we can do better. I feel like the 4x100m Free is following the same path the 4x200m has, and hopefully we can go to Japan and be world champions."
Earlier in the night, University of Birmingham’s Oliver Morgan became the only man to take three British titles across the week as he took victory by the smallest of margins in a dramatic Men’s 200m Backstroke final - joining Freya Colbert on a hat-trick of golds.
Having already taken the 50m and 100m crowns earlier in the week, Morgan made the step up to the 200m distance in style – sticking with the field through the first half of the race despite an early surge from Bath Performance Centre’s Cameron Brooker, which pushed the rest of the field towards a charge which perhaps was a little bit earlier than would have been the case through the third length.
The race settled into an even pace as the field got to the final turn, but it was not without any further action - Bath Performance Centre’s Brodie Williams made a charge of his own straight off the wall to put himself half-a-body length ahead, and the main contender right the way through to the final few metres.
The attention of the crowd was then brought to Morgan, whose steady pace noticeably increased as the end drew closer, before the pair were neck-and-neck at the wall – being split by a mere 0.01 seconds in favour of the West Midlands athlete.
“I didn't see all three coming, I can't say I did. Training has been going really well, I knew there were going to be some good swims on the cards - but the treble is the dream,” he said.
“He [coach Gary Humpage] doesn't like to take much credit, but everything comes down to him - the philosophy he gives us all, the whole environment he makes is so enjoyable. Everything I do outside of swimming, the discipline and everything, it's a credit to him because it's of all his mentoring he's given me. The swims are pretty good, so to be on that World Championship team would mean the world.”
A fierce battle between City of Salford’s Amelie Blocksidge and Loughborough University’s Fleur Lewis opened the action at Ponds Forge, as Blocksidge became the youngest British champion of the week on her 14th birthday with one of the most memorable swims of the competition to take 1500m Freestyle gold.
The pair immediately broke away from the rest of the field before the 400m mark had passed, and a battle ensued between the two distance specialists, before Blocksidge’s superior pacing slowly pulled her away as the race continued. Lewis did not give up – stopping the 14-year-old from taking more ground down the third quarter of the race, before the duo helped each other along to finish half-a-length ahead of University of Stirling’s Michaella Glenister, who was the third fastest finisher and took bronze.
Speaking on what was a historic win, Blocksidge was overjoyed with her performance.
“I'm really happy - it's the best birthday present you can get, isn't it? I'm over the moon. I could hear quite a lot of the support from the crowd, I've got lots of my family in the crowd and my granny and grandad watching me from Australia too. That support helps me a lot, knowing I've got people behind me, cheering me on," she said.
"It's really good swimming with Olympians, especially in the 400m IM, swimming with those Olympians, it's a really good experience, I've loved it.”
Keanna MacInnes got the better of the athletes either side of her to take gold in the Women’s 100m Butterfly, in a final that saw all eight swimmers separated by a single second after the heats.
The 2001-born athlete had to come from behind at times during the race before sealing the win, as she took the race out with Loughborough Performance Centre’s Laura Stephens and City of Cardiff’s Harriet Jones, who took the silver and bronze medals respectively at the end of what was an unpredictable race.
Jones took the top spot at the halfway stage thanks to a blistering start and first few stroke cycles which carried her easy speed through to the wall, with MacInnes between her and Stephens with not much between them.
The race developed into a battle of endurance and lactic acid tolerance when the athletes got towards the 75m mark, and it was Stephens who made the first charge towards the top spot – her strokes being matched by MacInnes who ultimately held her pace for the longest which gave her victory, with the pair just behind.
"It's very exciting. After being third in the 200 I was a little disappointed, but coming back in the 100 was my aim after that, so I'm really pleased. Going sub-58 is really good for me," she said.
"I learnt at the Edinburgh International that if I focus too much on the girls around then I can tense up a bit and put too much energy into the first 50. I just focused on swimming my own race."
Jacob Peters continued his impressive week as he took the Men’s 50m Butterfly British title in style with a world-leading swim in what was a stacked field.
Going in lane five, Peters’ start saw him level with lane three’s Ben Proud at the front of the field, before pulling away from the 2017 world champion in the event to take victory with the fastest time in the world so far this year.
After picking up the 100m Butterfly title earlier in the meet, Peters did not show any sign of being hung up in the moment – his intent being shown from his visible ecstasy at his achievement once the race had concluded.
Proud's performance was enough for the silver medal, with Swansea University's Lewis Fraser taking the bronze.
He was taken aback by his own performance when asked for his thoughts, and he kept a level-headed approach towards what’s to come.
“That has shocked me a little bit actually! I mainly train for the 100m. I was hoping for a 22-point tonight, but 22.8, that's 0.4 off my 50m PB, so I'm really happy with that," said Peters.
“Having done such a good swim on Friday in the 100m, I feel like I'm in good condition, I've been training really well, so I felt confident, I'd done the job on the 100m so now it was time to let loose, see what I'd got but also not take it too seriously, because I'd qualified in the 100m, the 50m is about bragging rights really, how fast can you go!
“I don't want to look too far into the future. Obviously I'm in good form, but I've got to focus and train hard to keep the momentum going, it's not going to come just because I want it to, I've got to work for it. We'll see what happens out in Japan, but I'm really looking forward to it and it's definitely given me a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Edinburgh University’s Kara Hanlon followed in Peters’ footsteps by picking up her second British title of the week – the 25-year-old putting in a tactically superior race to see herself edge into the gold-medal spot thanks to a strong last 25 metres.
The whole field traded blows down the first length in what was a tight affair, with the race then transitioning into Hanlon’s eye-catching exchange with Derventio’s Imogen Clark – the pair both looking like they would make the deciding charge as the race headed into the final few metres, but it was Hanlon who held her nerve and her pace to get to the wall first. Angharad Evans of West Suffolk was just behind the two athletes as she took bronze.
Hanlon was in a reflective mood after the race, as she looks towards adding to her accolades in the summer.
“I'm really chuffed to have got the win. I'd have liked to have been a wee bit closer to the consideration time, but I guess it's just one of those things. At least I won and put in a good race, and that's my second-fastest time ever, so I really can't complain.
“A year ago, if you'd told me I'd be going 1:06s, I think I'd have been pretty shocked, so I feel like I've been putting in the good work and it's all paying off. If I get a good summer ahead of me, whatever happens next is the next thing.
“I gained a lot of confidence, I'm structuring the race a lot better and playing to my strengths, really coming home that last 25m as fast as I can. We've been working a lot on training on that and it's really paid off in the last 25m.”
Full results from the competition, including an archive of session reports, is available via our 'What's on?' page.