Eyes on British Championships after 'positive' World Champs in the pool

26 Feb 2024

A unique World Aquatics Championships for Britain's swimmers was "positive all round", according to British Swimming Performance Director Chris Spice - and now it is all eyes on April's British Swimming Championships. 

It is a week since a 20-strong team finished competing in Doha at the rarest of events - a World Championships in Olympic year. With the primary target being to secure a full quota of relay places for Paris, this was also an opportunity for athletes to gain exposure to top-level international racing in the lead-up to British Championships, and to push for world medals.

In each of those aspects, the meet was a success, with the Men's 4x100m Freestyle Relay team delivering a Paris place on day one, the Women's 4x200m Freestyle Relay quartet claiming a superb silver medal and every other relay performance - either from Doha or last year's Worlds in Fukuoka - proving more than enough to ensure Olympic qualification.

On top of that, British Swimming finished with a tally of seven medals overall, including maiden World Champs golds for Laura Stephens, in the Women's 200m Butterfly, and Freya Colbert in the Women's 400m Individual Medley. Just as valuable was the depth of racing opportunities for every swimmer involved, the likes of Anna Hopkin, Duncan Scott and Matt Richards taking on busy schedules - and thriving within them - despite being in the middle of heavy training.

Reflecting on the relay targets and the overall performances of the British team, Performance Director Spice - preparing for his third Games with GB - was delighted with the outcomes. 

"It's always a risk when you come in-season and you're not tapered, you don't know what you're going to get - but I thought the four lads in the first relay, the Men's 4x100m Freestyle Relay, were excellent. They stayed really focused, prepared well and, in the end, got the job done. We did the right thing, I think we made the right call in bringing our top-end athletes, but we've still got more to come," he said.

"Getting that job done on the first day was good, and then we got our heads back on and turned it into a proper prep meet. We had people training right through, so even though they might've had a rest day, they were training hard on their days 'off'. So there really were no days off, because we wanted to use this as a really tough race preparation meet, which we normally would at home anyway - it's just that the standard was very different at a World Championships.

"Everyone approached it really well - the coaches got a lot of out it, we learned a lot, we had our sports science guru Olly Logan with the team, and the amount of analysis we're able to do on ourselves and our opposition, that's really important for us in terms of preparation, particularly around the relays.

Men's 4x100m Freestyle Relay reaction Doha 2024
The Men's 4x100m Freestyle Relay team

"We're dead chuffed that all of the relays have now qualified for Paris, and obviously we'll make a call on what those teams might look like when we get to trials at the British Championships. But all in all, it was a really positive meet, from the coaching point of view, our athletes' point of view and in terms of analysis - so positive all round, really." 

Among the highlights at the Aspire Dome for the British Swimming team were gold-medal-winning performances from Stephens and Colbert, in the Women's 200m Butterfly and 400m Individual Medley respectively - while Colbert was also part of the Women's 4x200m Freestyle Relay team that clinched an impressive silver medal, alongside Abbie Wood, Lucy Hope and Medi Harris, after several near-misses over recent major internationals.

That result not only rubber-stamped Team GB's spot for that event in Paris - when the team will look to break on to the podium against the world's best - but also provided a timely confidence boost for the athletes involved, a common theme across the meet according to Spice.

"That team has been fourth a couple of times, and what was really nice is that when we put the team together, when there was an interest to come to Doha, we thought, 'well, there's an opportunity potentially to get on the podium'," he added.

"We weren't surprised they got on the podium because we thought we were good enough, but it's a real shot in the arm for them. Freya Anderson isn't here, she's still to come in, and the four of them here, in heavy training, did a great job, particularly the way they moved it on from heat to final, and got what in the end was a very comfortable silver behind one of the world's best teams.

"From our end, we're just dead chuffed for the girls to get their first world medal - and they have built some real confidence ahead for Paris. So that's a massive positive for that relay.

Laura Stephens 200m Butterfly GOLD picture Doha 2024
Laura Stephens

"On the same night, we saw Laura Stephens' gold in the 200m Butterfly, and you couldn't want for a more professional athlete than Laura. For her to finally get some reward for all of that effort, she is a brilliant trainer, she's brilliant with all of her nutrition and application around her swimming.

"To get someone like that who's a great person as well as a great professional athlete, to get a result like that is just phenomenal for her, and for coach Dave Hemmings and the work they've been doing, and the people at Plymouth before that."

With the 2024 World Championships now in the rear view mirror, all focus now turns to the British Swimming Championships, which act as the key selection meet for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is the biggest domestic meet of this three-year cycle into Paris - and while tension and expectation rises for obvious reasons, Chris is also enthused by the strength of fields that will be heading to the London Aquatics Centre, bringing together the best British swimmers and para-swimmers across a star-studded, fully-integrated six-day programme.

"It's always a difficult time of year, because people will start to race a bit now, just to sharpen up their race skills, and they'll still be in a reasonable amount of training," he added.

"But then as we get towards the middle of next month and the tapers begin, that's when the nerves begin, because obviously we'll picking the teams for Paris off the back of the meet - and, whatever people say, it is a different year.

"The athletes and the coaches will be on tenterhooks because they know it's such a big deal this time around. There are athletes we've got in there that have been there before, they've done it, they've succeeded, and we've got some incredible racing that will happen at British Champs, because we have built the depth in some of the events.

"The Men's 200m Freestyle, the Men's 200m Backstroke, the Women's 200m Freestyle is now coming, the Women's 100m Backstroke, there are a whole bunch of events that are going to have some top-line racing, and they will have to absolutely be on their best to come through and make the team.

"But in the end, from our point of view, building that depth in six, seven events is exactly where we want to be. The fact that we have more of those kind of races that will happen at the British Championships this year is a massive positive for the sport - and it's actually going to come down to who has got it on the day. It's going to be really exciting." 

You can get hold of your tickets to the British Swimming Championships and make sure you are in the stands at the London Aquatics Centre to watch world-class racing ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games by visiting the dedicated event page here.