Adam peaty’s anticipated success in the 100m breaststroke final overnight will quite rightly steal the headlines.
The 21-year-old from Uttoxeter near Derby was heavily favoured to become the first British male winner of an Olympic swimming gold since Bradford’s Adrian Moorhouse, 28 years ago in Seoul.
Peaty bettered his own 100m breaststroke world record in Saturday afternoon’s heats, clocking 57.55secs, and although he was a shade slower in the semi-final, it looked a safe bet that people would wake this morning to the news of his coronation.
But if the limelight was taken by Peaty, then it should in no way detract from the great strides made by two swimmers closer to home.
Sheffield’s Olympic debutant Max Litchfield and Middlesbrough’s Aimee Willmott – in her second Games – both made the finals of the 400m individual medley on day one, with the young man from the Steel City even giving the medal positions a run for their money.
City of Sheffield swimmer Litchfield, 21, finished fourth in the 400 IM final, setting a new English record of four minutes 11.62 seconds in the process.
That was a new personal best for Litchfield, who had earlier lowered his own previous high mark to 4:11.95.
“It’s an honour to be the first British guy out in the first finals session at an Olympic Games,” said Litchfield, who attends Sheffield Hallam University and is the British Universities & Colleges Sport Sportsman of the Year.
“Competing at the Olympics is what everyone dreams of and to be able to go out there and swim fast and swim well is amazing. Hopefully that will spur the team on for the rest of the week.”
The 400m individual medley has been dominated by Americans since Atlanta 1996 – Michael Phelps won it twice – but in Rio on Saturday night Japan’s Kosuke Hagino ended the USA’s winning streak in a time of 4:06.05.
USA’s Chase Kalisz had to settle for silver in 4:06.75 and Japan’s Daiya Seto was third in 4:09.71, two seconds ahead of Litchfield.
“I knew the guys at the top would go out quick next to me,” said the Yorkshireman who had qualified for the final sixth fastest.
“It was a matter for me of sticking to my race plan, knowing that I would probably be a few body lengths behind at 100m.
“I wouldn’t have changed anything – I’m happy to have got another 0.3 seconds off my personal best from the morning.
“It is annoying to finish fourth but I was still two seconds behind the guy who was third. So to come fourth at my first Olympic Games and to set a personal best is all I could ask for.”
Willmott, 23, tried to put on a brave face after finishing seventh in her maiden Olympic final but the tears filling her eyes told another story.
The Middlesbrough swimmer touched home in the 400m individual medley final in 4:35.04 minutes – a full second slower than the time she posted in qualifying for the final earlier on Saturday afternoon. She had started the final strongly and was fifth at the halfway stage but in the closing lengths she faded badly.
All is not lost however for Willmott, who will now prepare for the 200m butterfly heats that get underway tomorrow.
And despite the tears that betrayed her disappointment, there are plenty of positives to take from a race that saw Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu smash the world record in sealing gold while Willmott’s compatriot Hannah Miley was agonisingly outside the medals in fourth.
“I was just focusing really on my own lane and my own race,” said Willmott, who had finished 11th in the event at London 2012. “I’m a little bit gutted I didn’t go as fast as the morning but this morning I had to give it everything to make sure I made it to the final.
“It’s my first Olympic final and to finish seventh I shouldn’t really be disappointed with that.”
Her attention can now switch to the 200m fly, an event in which she claimed the Commonwealth silver medal back in Glasgow 2014. And Willmott – who had her family cheering her on in the stands including her father Stuart who is a former British swimmer who competed at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles – is confident she will bounce back.
“To get the harder one out the way, it’s nice to concentrate on the 200m and there’s a lot less pressure there now,” added Willmott.
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