The bright lights and voluminous fanfare of the International Swimming League’s London debut last weekend was designed to showcase Duncan Scott and his brethren as rock stars of their aquatic universe.
The plaything of a Ukrainian billionaire with enough money to convert splash and dash into hard cash for its participants, for sure. But also an opportunity to lure a new generation on deck.
“How long does an event need to last before it starts changing the way a sport is?” asks Scott, whose efforts helped propel London Roar into next month’s inaugural final in the under-stated environs of Las Vegas.
“From what I have seen, it is definitely something different and it is more appealing to a lot of fans. From that viewpoint, it is probably going to have legs and it will last,” he added.
The razzle-dazzle, you sense, appealed less to the 22-year-old than the intensity of the scrap and the competitive lure provided by facing his peers.
No matter the skill of the ISL’s hype machine, the noise did not match the hubris generated by the double Olympic medallist and his Australian ally Mack Horton when each engaged in a quiet protest against their Chinese rival Sun Yang at July’s world championships in Gwangju.
Previously banned for doping, Sun was accused last year of smashing vials of his blood following a visit from drugs testers. Hence why Scott, like Horton, refused to shake his hand on the podium. The lack of a second suspension for three-time Olympic gold medallist saw him summoned to Geneva last week for an appearance at the Court of Arbitration for Sport where myriad rebuttals – including claims that the testing official was a builder with no apparent qualifications – were presented in his defence.
A just fight in the “interests of all athletes”, insisted Sun. “An absolute joke,” retorted Britain’s Olympic and world breatsstroke champion Adam Peaty.
“I think, out of the two, I would probably back Peaty,” said Scott. It is a case which has not captured his attention. Alternative distractions – setting Scottish records at the recent BUCS championships, then the ISL, ahead of this winter’s apex: the European short-course championships which start in Glasgow on Wednesday. Scott added: “He (Sun) is not going to be at the Europeans. So that is one thing we can be thankful for.”
Neither will Peaty, which is a great shame, given his current majesty in his event. He holds the Olympic titles and records that any swimmer would envy.
Comrades in London, as they have been on numerous relay quartets over the past few years, the Englishman is a team-mate upon whom Scott can lean and an example he might follow in the quest to succeed without the need for pharmaceutical infusions.
“The great privilege I have working and training with a lot of the athletes I do is that it is out of our minds,” said Scott. “Our job is to make ourselves as good as possible, so that becomes irrelevant because we are better than them anyway. That’s the idea for most of the athletes in Britain. “
“Look at Peaty. I know for a fact that he has never taken anything. Look at him. What’s he got? Eighteen of the top 18 fastest times for 100m breaststroke? The guy is a machine. I have been quite lucky in that I have seen his progression from 2014 and his first-ever world record to what he is now.
“You stand there watching him and you are expecting the unexpected.
“Things that, before he swam, you just thought were crazy. ‘There are certain things he does that are really good and I am trying to replicate in my own way.”
Given his absence from the fray at Tollcross, it will be Scott who carries the burden of British torchbearer.
His testy spat with Sun provided him with a level of noble renown. And yet, he would rather be feted for medals than the artifice of hyperbole or keeping his cool beneath this particular Sun.
“If that is the thing that defines my career, I would be gutted,” acknowledged Scott.
Fortunately, there are ample opportunities in the months ahead for his star to burn brighter still.