200m reprieve still not out of the question for Ross Murdoch

Ross Murdoch is used to making waves in the swimming pool but it is his failure to clinch a qualifying place for his preferred event in Rio that has been causing ripples.

Ross Murdoch won gold in the 200m breaststroke at the European Championships in London. Picture: SNS
Ross Murdoch won gold in the 200m breaststroke at the European Championships in London. Picture: SNS

The Commonwealth 200m breaststroke champion was unable to clinch one of the top two spots at the British Championships in Glasgow last month, stunning British swimming fans and selectors who had said they would back the top two finishers in each race.

Murdoch, who finished third, has been stoic in his acceptance but proved a point at the European Championships in London last week when he held off world champion Marco Koch to win gold in 2.08:33. Craig Benson and Andrew Willis, who are set to represent Britain at the Olympics in the two available slots, did not even make the final.

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It has left the selectors with a headache. While Murdoch will be on the plane to Brazil, having clinched a place in the 100m breaststroke, where he took silver in the British trials and the Euros behind Englishman and GB team-mate Adam Peaty, there are some who are wondering if some discretion can be shown to see him installed as one of the starters at the longer distance.

“I’m sure there are some clauses in there that someone can look at. I haven’t looked myself – it’s not for me to do, it’s someone’s full-time job.

“In the 200, it’s a stacked event. I always said it was going to be the toughest one to make the team in, out of the entire Olympic schedule, men’s and women’s races. And I always said Craig Benson was the one to watch out for.”

The Scot, who crashed into the nation’s consciousness with his defeat of poster boy Michael Jamieson at Glasgow 2014, spoke as he helped launch the new Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards, which will be presented at a special dinner in September. The purpose is to reward the achievements and sporting passion of schools, community groups, coaches and governing bodies, as well as lauding the prowess and anticipated success of the country’s leading athletes as they return from the Rio Olympics.

Murdoch would have been a strong contender in the 200m breaststroke and is trying to remain positive. He has said he will be poolside to cheer on Benson and Willis and is determined to push himself over the shorter course. But the niggle of regret is still there.

“Obviously I was disappointed – and I let it eat away at me for a wee bit. But it’s one of those things, you are either a victim or a fighter. After a week, you make a choice. 
Ultimately, I’m still in the Olympic team, I’ve got a big swim to do in the 100 and I’ve got a big relay at the end of the week, where I’ve got a job to do for my team. I just need to focus on the things I can control, look at the positives.”

A slugger, he had fire in his belly last week. “Last week was very unexpected. We went in unrested and, for me, it was just about focusing on the small things, the processes. I’m certainly a lot more consistent than a lot of other athletes. Last week, that proved it to myself. I thought I was out of shape after the trials. But I’ve proved to myself and 
others that I’m ready to put in a big performance.”

And last week’s display in London, collecting gold in the 200m and adding individual silver and bronze in the 100m and 50m, as well as a relay gold, proved that he is a swimmer with the talent and a reputation to be reckoned with.

Speaking at St Ninian’s Primary School, in Stirling, who attracted their own headlines due to their ground-breaking daily mile initiative, the University of Stirling athlete isn’t holding out much hope of a discretionary call-up to the 200m even if other countries deploy such selection tactics.

“A lot of other nations do that. I mean the world champion, Marco Koch from 
Germany, he didn’t have to compete at his trials.

“I haven’t spoken to Craig about it. We’re actually really good friends and I was gutted for him not to make it back to the final of the European Championships last week – and he congratulated me on my performance. We are both going to Rio, regardless. They can’t not take Craig. So we’re going out there as team-mates and pals. I will cheer him on in every race – and I’m sure he’ll be the same with me.”

l For details of the Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards go to www.cgcs.org.uk