TWO days of international competition at one of Glasgow 2014’s major venues: this was as close as we will get to a foretaste of what is to come next summer, and it can only have whetted the appetite of everyone who was there.
Whether in its original incarnation of a United States versus Australia contest or its present USA v Europe format, the Duel In The Pool has always been able to boast the participation of many of the best swimmers in the world. With 44 Olympians taking part on Friday and Saturday, this, the sixth Duel, was no different in that respect – but for sheer atmosphere and excitement, it surpassed anything that had gone before.
The closeness of the contest was one reason for that. The teams were level on points after 30 events, so a play-off relay was required before the USA were able to hang on by a single point – 132 to 131 – to a trophy they have never yet lost. However, the main contributing factor was the frenzied support from the 2,000-strong crowd, principally for the four Scottish members of the European team – Michael Jamieson, Craig McNally, Hannah Miley and Robbie Renwick – but also for every competitor and for the whole show.
This was not only proof that the Tollcross International Swimming Centre is ready to host the Commonwealth Games. It was also a raucous demonstration that the people of Glasgow are ready.
Next summer, when races are over the 50-metre Olympic distance rather than the 25m short course that was in use for the Duel, the capacity of the venue will be 5,000. Health-and-safety operatives with decibel counters will be twitching nervously at the prospect of just how loud that crowd will be.
The outcome was disappointing for the European team, of course, who had come closer to beating the Americans than ever before. But that feeling of anticlimax soon faded, to be replaced by one of satisfaction at the standard reached.
“I’m buzzed,” Hannah Miley said, in words that were echoed by every other competitor who spoke afterwards. “It’s kind of weird – it’s incredible, I never expected it to be that close to the Americans on the points.
“It’s just amazing. We didn’t really expect to get this close with the French pulling out and some of the other top swimmers not able to make it. So we’ve done so well to fight hard and show that we don’t back down, because the Americans are amazing at not backing down and they really fought hard today after yesterday, which definitely made things a lot more exciting at the end.
“It was heartbreaking [to lose]. Team Europe worked so hard to try to get as far ahead of Team USA as we could and we did such an amazing job considering that we’re missing quite a lot of key swimmers. I think it would have been the icing on the cake of an awesome two days of racing if we were to just pip it. But we still come away with a smile on our face after the closest Duel the Americans have had.
“We showed that we’re not to be walked over; we’re definitely competitors.”
And for those competitors such as Miley, who will be back next summer, the two days were a chance to become used to the venue and to get an idea of what the atmosphere will be like for the Games. “It was hugely beneficial,” she continued.
“Walking out, seeing the crowd, feeling the buzz and hearing how loud they were – it just makes you smile. It lifts you and makes you stand tall. It makes you feel proud to be Scottish and to know the home crowd are there to really push you and it does make a difference in your race.
“The organisation behind it must have been quite spectacular and difficult, because they pulled off such an amazing job. I’ve never known it to be like this. The last time I did it was in 2009 and I thought that was pretty spectacular, but this has topped it. I don’t know whether I’m being biased because I’m Scottish, but we did such an amazing job.”
In common with many other swimmers at this time of year, Miley is combining racing with a heavy training schedule, so cannot expect to be as sharp as she is at the height of the summer. Even so, she surprised herself with some of her times, and, in another hint at what can be achieved next summer, credited the crowd with inspiring her to go faster even when she felt at her most fatigued.
“It makes you push that little bit more when you’re tired, and you can do some incredible times. The 200 IM there, I’ve not been under 2mins 10sec all season. I’ve been in such a big hole in my training and racing a lot as well, so to come out with a 2.08 – I had no idea that was the time.
“It didn’t feel like a 2.08, but the crowd pushed me, the race pushed me and the whole event really helped push me to that time. It really makes you swim out your skin.”