The European Championships couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for Great Britain’s swimmers, as they won three medals on the opening night, breaking two British records in the process.
It was a truly golden moment in the history of Women’s 4x100m Freestyle swimming in the UK, as a new-look quartet of Lucy Hope, Anna Hopkin, Abbie Wood and Freya Anderson were the first British team to ever land the European crown, breaking the national record in the process.
Having qualified third quickest, where youngsters Emma Russell and Evelyn Davis produced strong swims on their senior international debuts, Hopkin and Wood came into the final line-up to great effect. As she did this morning, Hope swam a great lead-off leg, putting the team right in thick of the action, with Hopkin maintaining that position.
Medley and breaststroke swimmer Wood, coached by Dave Hemmings, proved an inspired choice for the final line-up, and she swam the 100m of her life to put Anderson in the lead with two lengths remaining. Anderson has been a phenomenal anchor leg swimmer for Great Britain over the last few years and she did it again tonight, a stunning 52.79 split holding off the Dutch to strike gold and set a new British record of 3:34.17, lopping a second and a half off the old time.
Gold medal round her neck, Hope said:
“My goal was to get us in the best place I possibly could for these three other girls. Overall I’m really happy with the time. It was quite unexpected but we’re all really happy.”
“It was a bit of gamble them putting me in, but I was asked to do it for the team. It’s a group of three really strong freestyle girls and I feel like I just had to pull my weight and give it a go. To come away with my first senior medal and a British record I’m just over the moon, and it’s a really good start to the meet.”
Anchor-woman Anderson concluded:
“That was really good. The pressure was on, as I could see we were in third and then second so I had to just remain calm, keep my head screwed on and get my hand on the wall first. The added pressure definitely makes me go faster!”
Five minutes later, the British record count for the night was doubled, as the men, inspired what they had just seen, secured silver.
Tom Dean came in on leg one, the first of a National Centre Bath trio, with anchor extraordinaire Duncan Scott also coming in to complete a team that had qualified comfortably thanks to the swims of Jacob Whittle and Joe Litchfield this morning.
Dean did what he needed to do, handing over to Matt Richards who kept the squad there or thereabouts as proceedings reached halfway. Next up was the stalwart of this team, James Guy, who improved further on an impressive morning swim to put the Brits third, with Scott to come.
The Stirling man did what he does best, chasing hard down that final 100m leg, overhauling the Italians to secure silver and a new British record of 3:14.29, also ending a 59-year medal drought in this event.
On the performance, Dean said:
“We’re really happy to get a medal in this event after so long. I couldn’t put it down to a specific swim, it’s just when the team comes together – obviously me and Matt coming in, and it bodes well for two months’ time when we’re stepping up in Tokyo and doing it.”
“It’s a great experience for me, this being my first senior international, to be in a team like this. It’s a great dynamic, a brilliant experience, and hopefully the first of many.”
“It’s not too bad when the boys put you in a good spot like they did there! We had a good swim all round to get a British record. To go faster than we did in 2019 was the aim and we managed to do that, and to get a medal is great. It’s the first time we’ve come together and done a 4x100 and that gives us confidence going forward.”
Prior to all the relay success, Aimee Willmott kick-started Britain’s medal flurry on the first night of swimming finals in Budapest with a splendid silver in the Women’s 400m Individual Medley.
Drawn in lane three, inside Olympic champion and eventual winner Katinka Hosszu, Willmott showed guts and determination to bring home her first European medal since 2014. Showing her class on the backstroke and breaststroke legs, Willmott chased home-favourite Hosszu hard, battling down the final freestyle length to touch second, tied with Viktoria Mihalyvari, also of Hungary.
It was a well-deserved medal for the Steve Tigg coached swimmer, who said afterwards:
“I’m happy with that! Obviously it’s nice to get on the podium and it was good to actually get in and swim a race, as at British trials a couple of weeks ago it was just me and the clock - I’d have liked to swim a little bit quicker than that, but I guess this is just a stepping stone and a platform to the summer. To take away silver, I’m pretty chuffed.”
Anna Hopkin had a busy night, as prior to relay gold she was in action in a high quality pair of Women’s 50m Freestyle semi-finals, booking a place in tomorrow’s final. Swimming from lane six, the National Centre Loughborough lady had to dig deep to touch fourth and ensure she’ll have a lane to contest the medal showdown.
It was a similar story in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke, as both Adam Peaty and James Wilby were in fine form to advance first and fourth quickest respective to Tuesday’s final.
Reigning champion Peaty was challenged down the opening length before powering clear, a sub-58 time meaning he was nearly a full second better than anyone else. Of how he conducted himself on day one of action, he said:
“That was really good. Technically I swam the race exactly how I needed to, but it’s all about looking at the data now for tomorrow, and seeing how we can get better. I enjoyed that more than I enjoy racing normally, so that’s always a good sign.”
Wilby was equally good, moving it on from his heat earlier in the day, a sub-59 time showing the World silver medallist will be fighting for medals alongside his compatriot tomorrow. Of his performance, he concluded:
“Like I said this morning, it’s all about moving it on through the rounds and practicing the things we want to practice for the Games – this is the closest we’ll get to an Olympic simulation, with the competition. The front end is something I’ve been playing around with this year, so to get that as good as possible and then move it on down the back end this evening, it puts me in a good spot going into tomorrow.”
Also in semi-final action tonight were Laura Stephens and Harriet Jones, the duo going in the second of the Women’s 100m Butterfly races. More of a 200m specialist, Stephens showed she’s in good form as she chases a spot on the Olympic team, touching fifth in her race to just miss out on a spot in the final. Making her senior international debut, Jones was three places back as she builds towards Tokyo this summer.
Full results can be found here