Swimming: Olympians set sights on World Championships

Liam Tancock after the 100m Backstroke during day one of the British Gas Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge. Pic: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.
Liam Tancock after the 100m Backstroke during day one of the British Gas Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge. Pic: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.
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World medallists Fran Halsall and Liam Tancock were among those who moved a step closer to the World Championship team after the first morning of the British Gas Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge.

Neither reached the podium at last year’s Olympics but today both were impressive as they moved into the semi-finals of their respective events at the one-stage trials for next month’s event in Barcelona.

London was a chastening experience for Britain’s swimmers with just three medals in all. Bill Furniss took over as head coach earlier this year alongside new performance director Chris Spice and Furniss laid out his vision yesterday for a leaner, performance-driven team with the aim of delivering Olympic medallists.

There was a low-key, almost subdued, feel at Ponds Forge but Halsall injected a frisson of excitement to lead the way in the 50m freestyle heats as she looks to right the wrongs of 2012.

The 23-year-old led from the front to finish in 25.06 with both the semis and final in tonight’s session (5.40pm).

Tancock is the two-time 50m backstroke world champion and he comfortably moved into the 100m semis in 55.28 behind Chris Walker-Hebborn.

The 28-year-old told Press Association Sport: “It’s all about getting into the meet and coming here and having fun. It’s a bit of an unknown this year with the trials like this. It’s exciting.”

Glaring by her absence was four-time Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington who retired earlier this year. Adlington, guided since the age of 12 by Furniss, was unbeaten domestically since 2006 in the 800m freestyle and her retirement offers a chance to another to fill her considerable shoes.

Jaz Carlin has had a testing time with illness that derailed her in recent years but the Swansea-based swimmer is back on track. Today she swam a commanding race to lead the 800m field into tomorrow’s final in 8:30.06.

Sheffield’s Ellie Faulker will be her main rival after her time of 8:33.86.

Halsall’s close friend Lizzie Simmonds was comfortable into the 200m backstroke semis. The 22-year-old was an agonising fourth last year after which she moved from Loughborough to Dave McNulty’s programme at Bath. He believes her greater talent and prospects lie in the 200m, rather than over two lengths, and she eased through in 2:14.94, third behind Lauren Quigley and Danielle Lowe.

Jemma Lowe was comfortable as she eased into the 200m butterfly semi-finals in 2:10.45.

It is hard to see who will challenge the Swansea-based swimmer such is the consistency that has guided her to two Olympic finals.

Notable by her absence was Ellen Gandy, the world silver medallist who has decided to switch allegiance to Australia.

Georgina Evans heads the field into the 100m breaststroke semis in 1:08.78.

The men’s 200m butterfly is an event with depth. Rotherham’s Joe Roebuck has improved almost beyond recognition since switching to Bath ITC but it was British record holder Michael Rock who stood out.

The City of Liverpool swimmer has had a testing few years on the international stage. Today he led from the off with a commanding 1:57.10 to lead the way into tonight’s semi-finals ahead of Olympian Roberto Pavoni, young prospect Matt Johnson and Roebuck.

Sheffield’s Nicholas Grainger was fastest through to tonight’s 400m freestyle final ahead of Dan Fogg and 2013 world finalist Robbie Renwick in 3:50.24. However, there was no place for Olympic 200m freestyler Ieuan Lloyd who had been expected to challenge.

Rotherham’s Rebecca Turner is through to tonight’s 50m freestyle semi-finals after a time of 25.95.

Ross Murdoch and Chris Steeples headed the 50m breaststroke into the semi-finals and Ben Proud set a personal best of 22.20 in the 50m freestyle.

In the multi-disability events, Jonathan Fox broke the S7 100m backstroke world record - his time of 1:09.52 0.034 quicker than the mark when claiming the Paralympic title last year.