Ross Murdoch freely admits that he still has down days but, as a return to the scene of his finest moment looms large, he’s back to being the kind of swimmer that can compete at the highest level.
Four years on from his stunning victory over ‘Face of the Games’ Michael Jamieson in the 200m breaststroke at Glasgow 2014, the now 24-year-old is preparing for a return to that Tollcross pool for next month’s European Championship.
Murdoch has been open about his struggles to deal with a hugely disappointing Olympic Games in Rio two years after his Glasgow heroics, as Adam Peaty emerged as a colossus of British and world breaststroking.
While not clinically depressed, Murdoch describes his mental state as “very low” after Rio as he gained weight before slowly rediscovering his love for swimming and competition.
“I definitely feel a lot better than I did then,” he said after a training session at his University of Stirling base as he promotes the Glasgow 2018 multi-sports extravaganza, which will see swimming’s European Championships combine with diving, cycling, gymnastics, rowing and triathlon and a team golf event at Gleneagles.
“There’s still days when I feel like I really don’t want to be here. I was feeling it just the other day actually. But every sportsperson goes through that and everyone has times in their career when you struggle with motivation.
“So there’s still a battle at different points and with different sessions but some of it might just be down to it being a Monday morning and I’m thinking: ‘Here we go again’.”
Murdoch is grateful for the support he received to get him back to the kind of swimmer he knows he can be as he won a silver medal behind the dominant Peaty in his defence of the 200m at Gold Coast earlier this year.
“I definitely think it’s important if you feel that way that you seek help, whether it’s from a sports psychologist or if it’s just your friends or family – anyone who’s going to support you through whatever you need to get through,” he said.
“You just need to seek support and what the support looks like will be different for everybody. I was lucky in that I had support from the University of Stirling and the Institute of Sport that I had access to fantastic coaches, psychologists and doctors. But the best support I got was from my friends and family.”
Murdoch’s wide-eyed joy and shock when he beat Olympic silver-medallist Jamieson to gold at Glasgow 2014 became one of the defining images of those Games but, as much as it is a return to a happy hunting ground, it is also a place where his demons of 2016 started to emerge.
The British Championships and trials were held at Tollcross in the April of that Olympic year and Murdoch failed to make the GB team for his favoured 200m distance. He travelled to Brazil for the shorter 100m but failed to make the final.
“It is nice going back but I’ve got both good and bad memories of that pool,” said Murdoch. “If you look back to the Rio season, where I didn’t make the 200 breaststroke. The issue wasn’t just Rio, it went right back to 2014 when I had glandular fever and I started missing teams.
“But then it was Rio that put the cherry on top, the base had already been set and the trials that year were one of the reason I was not in a good way.
“But then two years before, I had such a good experience.”
Murdoch is predicting some hot, high-quality competition when the Euros get under way on 3 August. The Commonwealth Games may bring the always formidable challenge of the Australians but the Europeans come with a much stronger spread of depth.
“Some people say that the Glasgow pool isn’t fast, that’s it’s only two metres deep and you need it to be three but I 100 per cent believe that a world record can be set in that pool and that it’s one of the fastest pools in the world,” said Murdoch.
“Especially when it’s dressed up like it was in 2014 – there’s about 5,000 people it’s louder than any venue I’ve ever been in. It’s very intimate and the crowd are on top of you.
“In a lot of places, you’re not conscious of that but Glasgow is the loudest place I’ve ever swum. That and Budapest last year, they were the loudest venues, even louder than Rio.”
A repeat of 2014 will take some doing but Murdoch is allowing himself to dream.
“To win gold would be unbelievable, it would be amazing,” he said. “It would be a defence as well and it would be crazy to stand on top of the podium again, in Glasgow. My family and friends will be there.
“I definitely think about standing on the top of the podium – it helps when you’re in training and you picture it being your last 50.
“You’ve got to let yourself dream because if you don’t do that, there’s no fun in it.”