Craig Benson looks to Tokyo Olympics but has one eye on life out of pool

Craig Benson in action for Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty
Craig Benson in action for Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty
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Craig Benson has not only been preparing for the Edinburgh International meeting, which starts today, but also life after swimming.

The double Olympic semi-finalist has pondered retirement, even though he’s only 24.

He said: “I’ve realised that this is not what I’ll be making a living on. Hard though that is.”

However, the breaststroke specialist from Livingston is eyeing one last hurrah at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

But ahead of the weekend action at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, exams at the University of Stirling have been Benson’s primary focus.

Last summer, having returned from the Commonwealth Games as empty-handed as he did from Rio 2016, he gave serious consideration to hanging up his goggles for good.

Instead, he submitted himself to a gruelling three-stage process to win an internship at a leading accountancy firm which paved the way for him to put his degree to good use in due course.

And Benson acknowledged that life outside the bubble, even for a short time, was massively instructive.

“There is a lot more than I realised that you can take from swimming,” he said.

“People appreciate the dedication. How you perform under pressure.

“I was given a task to do by one of the senior partners which had to be done by the afternoon. Some people might have got flustered. But I’m used to that urgency.”

Athletes often struggle to transition from competition to civvy street but Benson has learned from the ebbs and flows.

“I’ve seen swimmers feel lost when they quit,” he added.” But you need to set yourself up so when you’re ready, rather than thinking ‘this is my identity so who am I?’

“Find something else that is a complement, so when swimming’s not going well, you have something outside. “

“Going into Rio, when it hadn’t gone well, I had nothing else to focus on and I felt I went into a downward spiral. Shifting that can make a big difference. But the mistake people make is actually focusing more.”

In the pool today, Rio 2016 silver medallists Duncan Scott and Jimmy Guy square off in the 100 metres butterfly.

The weekend will also repeatedly pit Benson against his breaststroke rivals Adam Peaty, Ross Murdoch and James Wilby, a month before the world championship trials in Glasgow.

All are in the top 20 in the rankings and, until the Tokyo Games, it will be a battle royale.

“It means I have to up my game,” said Benson.

“I know where I need to go. That gives me a lot of motivation, I can’t slack off any days. I need to keep improving in order to beat these guys.”