In the most successful Olympic games for Great British swimmers since 1908, Max Litchfield’s breakthrough fourth place at Rio 2016 was perhaps lost amid a fortune of medal riches.
The 22-year-old produced the swim of his life on the second night of racing and provided the impetus for Team GB’s medal flurry at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium – headlined by Adam Peaty’s 100m breaststroke glory the following evening.
Britain’s tally of six medals, one gold and five silvers, put an end to years of criticism towards the lack of depth in the pool.
Twelve months on, Litchfield will form part of a 27-strong squad at his first World Championships in Budapest this week with his name firmly in the spotlight.
The British squad won five gold medals in a haul of nine at the worlds two years ago in Kazan, Russia. And after setting a national record at the British trials in his home pool of Ponds Forge in Sheffield, in April, Litchfield has been earmarked as one of a number of medal opportunities this time around, with Peaty once again frontlining the party.
Medals are what ultimately defines a swimmer’s career but for Litchfield, who competes over the four-stroke individual medley, his concentration is on what happens in his lane.
If you act like the best in the world every day – how you train, how you prepare, how you conduct yourself, how you eat, how you think – the chances of being that person increase.Bill Furniss
The City of Sheffield swimmer said: “We know that the team is there to do one job and that’s to get medals. But we are working on the premise that people go there and put out their best time. We’ve been doing the work day in, day out. The little processes that we’ve done are what will get us medals. We can’t think about medals, the medals will come to you. We can’t get too caught up and chase them.”
Litchfield has been a beneficiary of a British swimming programme that has undergone a severe upheaval over the last five years under head coach Bill Furniss. Despite a funding cut – from £25.1m to £20.8m – following a disappointing London 2012 showing, Furniss has created an environment of success alongside national performance director Chris Spice, adopting methods of the big swimming nations.
Hours have been spent toughening the mindset of the squad and it has produced a squad pushing towards the likes of Australia and the United States.
“If you act like the best in the world every day – how you train, how you prepare, how you conduct yourself, how you eat, how you think – the chances of being that person increase,” Furniss said following the Olympic cycle.
The British squad in Budapest features a mix of experience and youth.
Litchfield will be joined in Hungary with his City of Sheffield club-mates Nick Grainger and Rosie Rudin however his younger brother Joe has missed out and will instead compete at the World University Games in August.
Grainger was part of the 4x200m relay squad that took gold in Kazan two years ago at his first World Championships before the same team claimed Olympic silver in Rio. And there could be a double dose of Sheffield in the four-man team in Budapest with Litchfield hoping his freestyle improvement will be enough to gain him a place.
The Doncaster swimmer has not featured in a relay at a senior major championships but has been called in to the reckoning for a swim in Hungary.
“This is the first year I’ve made a big development towards that team,” added Litchfield. “My 200m hasn’t really been good enough. It’s been all right but not where it needs to be.
“Hopefully I’ll break through into the team this year and into the future. It’s a great team at the moment and has great potential. To even be selected as part of that is fantastic and hopefully I can keep in it.”
For Rudin, Budapest will represent her first major competition at senior level having impressed at the World Junior Championships in 2015 with a gold medal and world junior record in the 400m medley.
Rudin will compete in the 200m backstroke on Monday after winning the trials in Sheffield by half a second. Middlesbrough’s Aimee Willmott, who, like Litchfield, reached the final in the 400m medley in Rio, pulled out of the championships due to a knee injury despite defying the problem to finish second ahead of Rudin at the trials.
Despite the success in Rio, Furniss lowered expectations for the next two weeks.
He added: “Every World Championships or Olympic Games is a separate competition in its own right and we can’t expect results from one to carry over into the next. It doesn’t work like that whether it’s tennis, golf or swimming. It’s a case of who is the best on the day.
“We will be highly competitive at these World Championships but we have to see the bigger picture and that is producing the best performance of the cycle in Tokyo in 2020.”