Commonwealth Games: Pontefract’s Joe Litchfield steps up to assume lead role in the pool for England

The time to emerge from his brother’s shadow has arrived for Joe Litchfield.

The Pontefract swimmer is the sole Litchfield in the England swimming squad for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham after his older brother Max had for so long represented the family name and previous clubs Minsthorpe Marlins, Doncaster Dartes and City of Sheffield in international meets across the world.

Max – twice a fourth-place finisher in Olympic finals – withdrew from consideration to make the England squad due to ‘ongoing personal issues’, leaving younger sibling Joe to take the spotlight.

It will not be unchartered territory for Joe, who claimed the first global medal of his career without his brother in the squad at the recent world championships in Budapest.

But it will still be strange nonetheless, given how close the brothers – who were the first to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games for nearly 70 years in Tokyo – are.

“He’s definitely one of my biggest inspirations,” says Joe of Max, who he trains with in Loughborough.

“He’s one of the hardest-working people that I know, he works about 10 times harder than I do.

“Not that I’m saying I don’t work hard, but sometimes I have to say you work too hard and you can burn yourself out.

BREAKING OUT: Joe Litchfield competes in the 200m Individual Medley at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“Having him, especially through Covid, was crucial for me.

“We did workouts together. If he wasn’t there I wouldn’t have been as motivated to do it. He’s always been there, I’ve always wanted to beat him, always wanted to chase him down and I’m at that point now where we are on a par.”

No one will be more thrilled that Joe is carving out a career for himself than Max, especially since at 24 the younger brother is still only in his second season in the senior ranks.

That first year was headlined by Joe winning three golds and a silver in relay squads at the European Championships, and by an Olympic debut that he admits came three years earlier than he was anticipating – and did not go to plan.

Max Litchfield is congratulated by his brother Joe as he breaks the British record for the 400 IM in the English Championships at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, in December 2018. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“Tokyo was a really good experience, insane, but I didn’t swim as well as I’d wanted to,” says Litchfield, who was eliminated in the heats of the 200m individual medley and finished ninth as part of the 100m freestyle relay squad.

“It was a learning curve for me. The season had gone so well then I went to the Olympics and it didn’t quite pan out.

“I don’t know why that was, the training I did in preparation for it was perhaps not what we needed to do. We were chasing the qualification time and managed to get it post-trials.

“We got the time but they wanted me in the relay instead of the individual and then the relay didn’t quite pan out so it was a bit of a mess up. I was resting too much pre-Olympics as well, then we tried to do a full taper into the Games.

MAKING A SPLASH: Joe Litchfield competes in the 400m Individual Medley heats in GOld Coast back in 2018. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

“I got there and didn’t feel in the best shape.

“But you learn from those experiences and it was a great experience still. A couple of years ago I wasn’t even focussing on Tokyo, I was concentrating on Paris 2024, so it was a bonus.”

He goes into the Commonwealth Games strengthened by his Olympic experience and the bronze medal he won as part of the 4x200m relay squad at the recent world championships, which like last year’s Europeans, were held in Budapest.

“It’s given me lot of belief,” Joe Litchfield tells The Yorkshire Post. “It was a miraculous swim from Tom Dean to win us the medal.

“It will give me more calmness the next time I get out there, it was my first worlds final.

“I’d been to a European final and a Commies, but never a worlds. I was behind the block thinking I’ve got to get in that pool and work as hard as I can. I’ve never been in that position before.

SUCCESS: Bronze medallists, Tom Dean, James Guy, Jacob Whittle and Joe Litchfield pose with their medals from the 4x200m Freestyle Final at the World Championships in Budapest last month. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

“Just having that race, getting a good time, getting a medal, definitely calmed a lot of nerves.

“I can use it as a stepping stone for the future.”

The immediate future is a busy one. Traditionally a medley swimmer like his brother, Joe has ventured out into the freestyle since Tokyo and in Birmingham will contest the 200m freestyle, 50m backstroke and potentially up to four relays across freestyle and medley.

“A home Games is going to be a great experience,” says the younger Litchfield.

“Watching the Glasgow Games eight years ago looked so good and I can’t wait to experience it myself.

“I’m expecting something like that because I know that the English crowd will really get behind us.

“The arena from what I’ve heard is quite small but can hold a lot of people, so it’s going to be quite echoey.

“I’m excited. Bring the noise.”