THE United States are still unbeaten in the Duel In The Pool but, after two days and 30 races, it took an extra relay to give them the edge over the European Allstars in Glasgow yesterday afternoon.
That additional race, a 4x50-metres mixed freestyle in which Great Britain’s Fran Halsall just failed to overhaul Simone Manuel in the last leg, meant the visitors won by 132 points to 131, but any disappointment for the home competitors was tempered by a feeling of exhilaration.
“That was absolutely brilliant – what better advert for the sport, and to boost the profile of the sport to come down to the last event, the last race?” said Michael Jamieson, one of four Scots in the European team for the short-course competition. “That’s what sport’s all about, really.
“Looking at some of the splits posted in that relay – people are posting some of the world’s fastest times. It’s just that crowd – it lifts your performance and everyone’s trying to pull out the best result for their team.”
Held in the Tollcross venue that will host the swimming at next summer’s Commonwealth Games, this competition was a chance for the British athletes to get a foretaste of the atmosphere they will experience then. Jamieson, for one, was massively impressed by a crowd that got noisier with every race.
“This is the most enjoyable meet I’ve ever done. We don’t often get the chance to be a part of a team like this, and I think the fact that people are relaxed and enjoying themselves is showing in their performances.
“This is a world-class facility. Everyone is talking about how good the crowd was, and that’s a big thing coming from the American team, because they’re used to competing in huge venues with big crowds. So for them to say that it’s been a great meet for them and they’ve enjoyed it is a big thing.
“It’s great to get an idea of what the atmosphere will be like. Imagine that noise tonight and what it will be with twice the capacity. It’s going to be something else. It was important to get a feel for that, because I had real butterflies last night and today. It’s good that I can keep that in the back of my mind ahead of the summer.
“As an athlete, as a competitive person, you want to win. But it can’t get any closer than that. I’ve done the best job I could. It was always going to be tough for me to score points against the big sprinter lads – those guys are 6ft 5in and 6ft 7in. I’ve had a great time.”
The rules stipulated that a tiebreak relay would take place in the event of a draw, but anyone who read that far in the programme at the start of the meeting must have thought such an event was no more than a remote possibility.
The Americans had enjoyed three comprehensive victories over Australia in the first three editions of the Duel, and were barely less convincing in their previous two meetings with Europe.
But a rousing performance on Friday evening had given Europe a 68-54 lead, and they extended that advantage with a clean sweep in the first of yesterday’s races, the women’s 800m freestyle. With five points for first place, second for third and one for third (the relays were simpler, with seven points for the winners and nothing for the losers), that meant the Europeans were 77-54 ahead.
But the United States steadily clawed back that advantage and, by the time Robbie Renwick claimed a point in the 200m freestyle, the home lead was down to 87-71. Four races later, an American win ahead of two Europeans in the 100m breaststroke – with Jamieson just out of the points in fourth – made it 97 points apiece.
Europe got back ahead after that, assisted by a point from Hannah Miley in the 200m intermediate medley, but a US win in the men’s equivalent race made it all square again. A victory in the first of the closing 4x100m freestyle relays with a world-record time of 3min 27.70sec put Europe seven ahead but Olympic champion Cullen Jones then held off Renwick to give the US a win in the last of the regulation events.
That left the race-off, and although it ended in disappointment for the Europeans, they could also take pride in coming closer than ever before to claiming the trophy. “It was brilliant,” Jamieson said of that finale. “Great finish – I thought Fran was going to pip her at the end, but it was not to be.
“But that’s the closest it’s ever been. A few years ago we got trounced by a long way. So it was good fun.”
That was an understatement