Craig Benson swam in the 100m breaststroke at last year’s Olympic Games but he had to draw on all his grit and determination to win the 200m event in the 17 and over section at last night’s Scottish Gas National Age Group Championships at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh.
In one of the tightest races of the opening day, 18-year-old Benson came from behind at halfway to edge out West Dunbartonshire’s Ross Murdoch by a hairsbreadth’s 0.08 seconds in 2:13.84.
“The last length was really punishing,” Benson, of the Warrender club, admitted. “Ross was ahead but I just tried to hunt him down and the result all came down to whoever got it on the final touch.”
Benson’s world was turned upside down, in a good way, when he surprisingly made the 2012 Olympics and his goal this year is to retain his place in Team GB for the World Championships in Barcelona this summer. The trials are in June.
“Because of the Olympics I deferred my place at Edinburgh University,” he explained. “I live in Livingston and it would have been too much of an upheaval to move to Edinburgh after the Games. So I have taken a year out and I’ll probably start University this autumn. I’ve got my place in Accountancy and Finance.”
Of course, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are another massive incentive – and he has every intention of going on to a second Olympics in Rio.
Keri-Anne Payne, the English Open Water Olympian who now competes for Warrender, also struck gold in the final individual event of the night. She won the 17 and over 400m individual medley in 4:43.89.
Aberdeen’s Emily Jones won the 17 and over 200m butterfly in 2:16.75 and it marked the start of a busy few weeks for the youngster whose main target is next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“I’m going to be competing for Scotland at the Tri-Nations in East Kilbride next month and there is also an Irish International Meet,” said the Inverurie Academy pupil. “I’m hoping to start a degree in Geology and Geophysics at Edinburgh University in the autumn but the main goal is the Commonwealth Games.”
Aberdeen’s Suleman Butt is recognised as one of the best youngsters in Scotland, and he won the first gold of the four-day Championships in style in the 15 years 100m backstroke.
Leading from the start, Butt, who trains alongside Jones under Aberdeen head coach Alison Low, was the only swimmer to finish under the minute with a winning time of 59.68.
Kelso Swimming Club’s Lucy Hope was recently selected to represent GB at the European Junior Championships in Poland this summer, and she showed fine form by winning the 15-16 years 100m freestyle in 57.65.
Mark Szaranek is also in the GB European squad, and the Carnegie teenager featured in another tight finish and snatched the 16-17 100m backstroke in 58.16. His Carnegie clubmate, Craig Bowman, was runner-up in 58.36. Craig McNally (Warrender), who just missed out on last year’s Olympics, finished second in the 100m backstroke but took the National title in 57.40.
These championships always throw out new names and Craig McLean (Carnegie) broke the Scottish 14-year-old 100m backstroke record. He won the age-group gold in the new mark of 59.94. An even younger Keanna MacInnes (Heart of Midlothian) set a Scottish 11-year-old record of 2:84.50 in finishing with the bronze medal in the 10-12 years 20m butterfly.