Ross Murdoch came into this season feeling more than a little anxious. A double silver medallist at last year’s European Junior Championships, he wondered if he could continue to improve.
“I had given absolutely everything last year,” said the 19-year-old. “I was scared that I might not be able to go any faster.”
He needn’t have worried. Following a great run in recent Scottish events, Murdoch came up trumps at the British Gas Championships on Sunday evening in Sheffield. With a Scottish record 59.80 in the 100m breaststroke he became British champion and secured a place in Team GB for the world championships in Barcelona.
He is joined by six other Scots in the team – Michael Jamieson, Robbie Renwick, Hannah Miley, Craig McNally, Dan Wallace and Jak Scott.
Yesterday, having arrived home at 2am, his achievement was just beginning to sink in. “I’m really chuffed,” he said as he reflected on a swim in which he pushed fellow-Scot and Olympic 200m silver medallist Jamieson into second place. The other Scottish Olympian, Craig Benson, missed out on the worlds in fifth place. “I saw Michael win the 200m on Thursday and noticed how quick he was over the second half. So it was quite daunting standing next to him at the start of the final,” said the newest sub-one minute man. “But my coach, Rob Greenwood, had told me that all the hard work had been for this moment and not to be afraid. To break the Scottish record was a fantastic feeling.”
He was also delighted that his family – parents Maureen and Graham and 13-year-old sister Heather, plus girlfriend Lauren Averill – were there to capture the moment. “They had told me beforehand that they couldn’t make it down to Ponds Forge but I thought I saw my dad when I was in the call room before the race,” he said. “I waved but when no one waved back I thought I’d made a mistake. Then I saw them all when I was going on to the blocks and it made me want it even more.”
Murdoch’s rise in such a competitive sphere as GB breaststroke – England’s Andrew Willis and Dan Sliwinski also qualified for last year’s Olympics – is startling considering it is less than two years since he became a serious competitor. “I had trained at the West Dunbartonshire Club since I was 13 but I always wanted to focus on school,” he said. “It was my coach, Jimmy Orr, who sat me down and told me if I wanted to make it in the sport then I had to take things much more seriously.”
Orr laid it on the line. If Murdoch wanted to have any chance of lining up for Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games then he had to double the number of sessions. “22 August 2011 was the day that my life changed,” the youngster reflected. “I stepped up training and that first week was great. Then I hit a wall and I was in so much pain. But when I started complaining Jimmy just asked me ‘What do you want?’”
Murdoch knew what was at the top of the wish list – selection for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. “I watched the last Commonwealths in Delhi and the London Olympics on the TV and I wanted to be one of the people taking part. The Glasgow Games has been a huge incentive. It’s going to be great competing in a pool just half an hour from home.”
While swimming is the priority, Murdoch has not swayed from his desire to continue his education. Following six years at Balfron High School he moved on to Clydebank College and competed an HNC in sports coaching. Since last September, he has been on a swimming scholarship at the University of Stirling and studying for a degree in sport and exercise science.
“The course helps me understand more about my own swimming and I’m in a great programme under Rob,” he said. “Jimmy still plays a part – he’s a great friend.”
Orr was among those celebrating Murdoch’s success on Sunday. “When I started coaching Ross he was very skilful and technically sound,” said the West Dunbartonshire coach. “But he was like all 13-year-olds and could be a real pain in the backside. But as he got a little older he began to take swimming more seriously.”
Greenwood said: “Ross has made massive drops in times since he joined the Stirling programme.
“The British Championships was the first time he’d gone into a major event as the fastest from the heats.”
Murdoch added: “At the start of the year I didn’t think I had a hope of making the world championships. But every competitive swim has been a PB. Now Barcelona is going to be the best moment of my season. My first GB senior cap will be a huge milestone.
“It will also be the first step on the way to Glasgow 2014 and then the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I just want to swim even faster.”