Swimming: Benson shows steel in Sheffield

Liam Tancock takes part in the Mens Open 100m Backstroke during the British Gas Swimming Championships. Picture: PA
Liam Tancock takes part in the Mens Open 100m Backstroke during the British Gas Swimming Championships. Picture: PA
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CRAIG Benson insists he is on track after a solid start to his campaign at the British Gas Swimming Championships in Sheffield last night.

The 19-year-old Edinburgh-based swimmer finished sixth in the men’s 50 metre breaststroke final, clocking 28.17 seconds, nearly half a second behind winner Daniel Sliwinski. But the short splash and dash distance is not his speciality and a personal best underlined he was in the form to tackle his primary challenges at Ponds Forge this week.

“I swam a personal best so I can’t complain,” said Benson, who finished sixth in the Olympic 100m breaststroke semi-final last year. “I have been working more on the back end of my 200m and my 100m this season, so I had not been focusing on my speed as much and to PB in the 50m is great. Ultimately though I am really looking at performing better in the 200m and 100m. I wasn’t too sure how my speed was going to be coming into this but it seems to be really good.

“Normally in my 100m I go out in very similar splits to my 50m time so if I can go out at that kind of split and come back even faster than I did at the Olympics there is no reason why I can’t go under a minute.

“I think I am doing really well and every swim I have had this season has been unrested apart from here and it has been a lot better than I had been previously so I am in a good place.”

However, Benson knows it will be tough – with Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson and Team GB colleague Andrew Willis among his chief rivals in the days ahead. “With the likes of Michael and Andrew in the 200m it will take something really special to qualify in that, if they are on really top form,” he added.

“But I’m ranked number one over 100m, I have made the qualifying time and I want to go under that again and make the team.

“I have had a lot longer to focus on hard training and improvement so I would like to think that hard year of training is likely to have a huge effect.”

Meanwhile, Robbie Renwick hopes he’s done enough to secure World Championship selection after storming to the national 400m freestyle title in Sheffield. The two-time Olympian took gold at the British Gas Swimming Championships with a commanding performance, clocking 3:47.02, more than a second and a half inside the qualification standard.

The Glasgow-based swimmer finished well ahead of nearest rival Daniel Fogg to defend his title and underline his favourite status. But making the plane to Spain is still no formality, with team officials restricting the squad size to just 35 in a bid to add more competitiveness into the national team after a disappointing London Olympics.

“I was inside the qualifying time so I should be at the World Championships now,” said Renwick “It is a bit of a relief to get the first swim out of the way and it kind of takes the pressure off a little bit, knowing that I have qualified and with the 200m and 100m left it was great to get the 400m out of the way. The tactic was to go out hard. I know I am pretty tough in the back as well so I did a lot of speed work and it was all about trying to get out fast and comfortable. Going into the last 200m I felt good but I fell apart in the last 50m so I know there are at least a couple of seconds there for improvement next time.”

The 24-year old admits a new approach to the annual trials is taking some getting used to. Traditionally the British team decide their major championship selections in March but they elected to hold trials closer to the main event this year, after failing to hit their medal targets in London last summer. “It’s different but it’s the same for everyone and it’s good to change things around and see if that impacts on performance,” added Renwick. “There is great strength and depth in my distances now and it is fantastic to see the youngsters coming through and great to see guys stepping up.

“It was really tough to even make that final so to see the next generation pushing really hard is fantastic and what British swimming wants to see if we are going to be competitive.”

In other events yesterday, Englishman Adam Brown produced the standout performance when he beat Mark Foster’s 50 metres freestyle national record from 2008. After lowering Foster’s mark by four hundredths of a second in 21.92 seconds, Brown said: “Finally! The first time I went under 22 (seconds) for a long time.” Fran Halsall won the women’s equivalent, clocking 24.54 ahead of Amy Smith.

• This year British Gas is launching SwimBritain, a programme to create a healthier nation and get 500,000 people swimming more regularly by 2015. Visit www.swimbritain.co.uk/challenge