HE HAS beaten the best in Britain, Michael Jamieson included, often enough now to be regarded as the owner of that title in the 100 metres breaststroke. But, for Ross Murdoch, it was only an initial skirmish in the battle to become Commonwealth champion in Glasgow.
Unlike athletes in numerous other sports, and even some of his fellow swimmers, Murdoch will be up against the very, very best in the world in his specialist event at Tollcross Park. The reigning Olympic champion and world record-holder is a South African, Cameron van der Burgh, and the reigning world champion is an Australian, Christian Sprenger.
After being named yesterday as part of a 38-strong swimming team that will be peerless within Team Scotland for its world-class credibility and depth, Murdoch said that he would have to swim his two laps in less than 59 seconds to top the podium.
To understand how fast that is, Van der Burgh’s world record from London 2012 is 58.46 and Sprenger’s winning time at the World Championships in Barcelona was 58.79. No other swimmer apart from those two has swum a 58 since the Olympics.
“I’ll need to swim sub-59 for the gold in the 100,” said Murdoch, the two-times British champion, in a matter-of-fact manner. “There’s Cameron van der Burgh, who’s Olympic champ and world record-holder, and Christian Sprenger who was world champion last year, so it’s a tough field. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It gives me a lot of confidence, the form I’ve had early in the season, so I’m really looking forward to getting to the Games.”
Murdoch’s rise has been rapid. It is only two years since he began to train as an elite swimmer must, and made his breakthrough at the 2012 European Junior Championships, where he won two silver medals. That summer he watched Jamieson win Olympic silver in the second-fastest 200m time ever, and “it made me realise that it was actually possible to do it”.
Murdoch has been “doing it” in style at domestic level, breaking 60secs for the first time to win the British title last summer and then adding a Tollcross double in recent weeks, winning the Scottish Championships in 59.75 and then another British crown in 59.56. And yet, when he had his first brush with the global elite in Barcelona, it was an elevation he was neither physically nor mentally ready for.
“I swam beside Christian Sprenger at the world heats last year. I wasn’t really prepared for that. I’d never seen these guys before and almost watched them swim away from me. I’ve experienced that and I’m in a better place now.
“Yeah, it has changed for me now,” added the 20-year-old, who spent his early life in Alexandria, near Dumbarton, before moving to Balfron in Stirlingshire where he went to high school. “I know I’m in great form, I know I can find great form even when I’m unrested, so I just need to go in there and give it my best.”
Thirty-eight swimmers were named in the home team for Glasgow yesterday, including two reigning Commonwealth champions in Hannah Miley and Robbie Renwick. But nowhere is the racing going to be fiercer at Tollcross than in the men’s breaststroke events, where Team Scotland are already at full capacity. Stirling-based Murdoch has even matched multi-talented Miley by being selected for four events, including the 4x100m medley relay alongside Renwick, backstroker Craig McNally and butterfly swimmer Ryan Bennett.
He has no qualms about the workload, though. “Hannah’s something else – she just comes in and tries to swim everything and she does it well. It’s so impressive. She is a great athlete,” added Murdoch.
“I’m confident I can perform my best in all three breaststroke events. There are a couple of internationals coming up where I’m going to compete in all three again, just to keep up my form in all three events.
“Sometimes you have to double up and do the 200 and the 50 on the same day without much rest in between. If I can prepare for that I can prepare for them all on different days.
“I really wanted to compete in the three events so I’ve achieved that part but nowhere in the plan did I say I’d be one-hundredth off the 100m British record or breaking the 50m British record. To go under 2:10 for the 200m was an extra bonus. I’ve exceeded my expectations and thrown my coach’s plan out the window.”
For all the versatility of Miley, who will swim the 800m freestyle and 200m breaststroke as well as her two individual medleys, competing in relays would be a step too far, so Caitlin McClatchey’s experience in that area will be invaluable for what is an inexperienced, 15-strong female contingent.