Four Welsh swimmers are off to South Korea for the World Aquatics Championships, which begin in just over a week’s time. One of those, Alys Thomas, spoke to Liz Byrnes about living up to her new reputation following last year’s stunning Commonwealth Games success.
When Alys Thomas won the 200m butterfly title at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, not only was it cause for celebration in Wales but the manner of her victory also sent a shudder across pool decks around the world.
Thomas won in 2:05.45, a new Games record, and one that would have locked her out of the medals by just one place and 0.25secs at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
So, too, would she have been on the podium at the last four World Championships and on the top step in 2011 and 2015.
Even at world titles in 2009, Thomas would have placed sixth despite the effect of the super-suits that so skewed performance and messily rewrote the history books.
In short, the then 27-year-old moved to the top table but with her rise came those things for which she had not been prepared.
The glare of the spotlight, expectations – of others as well as her own – the unexpected pressure that success can bring.
It can be unsettling for an athlete unaccustomed to such attention and Thomas admits it took time to adjust.
She told Dai Sport: “I had never really had to deal with anything like that before.
“To suddenly shoot up to the top of the rankings and there are all these online articles and media – and extended interest.
“Not just media but support staff around me and all of a sudden there’s all these eyes on me.
“It’s all well-meaning, people want to help, they want to support you in the best way they can, but it’s added stuff I am not used to so I have to adapt to it and know the best interest is there.
“That has taken a bit of getting used to. As long I am not to change anything I am doing, keep what I am doing all the same, there’s nothing that can go wrong really.”
Thomas is one of four Welsh swimmers – along with Georgia Davies, Dan Jervis and Calum Jarvis – who are travelling to Gwangju, South Korea, for the World Championships, which begin on July 22.
It will be the Swansea swimmer’s second world titles, two years after sickness scuppered her in Budapest where she didn’t reach either the 100m or 200m final, although she swam the butterfly leg as the Great Britain women’s 4x100m medley relay squad came in seventh.
Her winning time of 2:07.40 at the British Championships in April ranks her 10th in the world and she put together a string of consistent performances across the Mare Nostrum series.
Jarvis is looking to make it three world titles on the trot with the men’s 4x200m relay while Davies will hope to replicate a stellar 2018 in which she followed up two Commonwealth bronzes with gold and silver in the 50m and 100m backstroke as well as relay gold and bronze at the European Championships in Glasgow.
Jervis sent a shiver through the distance freestyle when he clocked 14:46.51 in the 1500m at the British Championships in April.
Just 0.56secs off David Davies’ British record from 2004, it elevated Jervis to third in the world in 2019 although reproducing that kind of performance in the cauldron of Gwangju when facing the might of Olympic and double world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri is another matter altogether.
Jazz Carlin is no stranger to the demands and travails of global sport and it took six years for the Welshwoman to claim her second world medal in the 800m freestyle after her first in the GB 4x200m relay at the 2009 worlds.
A year later of course she won two Olympic medals and she pointed to the fact there are just 12 months until Tokyo 2020.
“Looking ahead I think it’s a really exciting team,” she said. “It’s a year out from the Olympics as well so it’s like everyone wants to put on a good performance heading into the Olympics on the world stage because they’ll be facing the best in the world.
“Dan and Alys in particular have had a great last year and they’ll be really hoping to show themselves now on the world stage to put down that marker to everyone else.
“I think they are in a great position: they have put on some great performances, swum well at trials.
“It’s just about getting that consistent block of training now heading into worlds. It’s coming round fast. It’s really exciting, I am really looking forward to being on the other side of it this time.”
After Jervis produced that 1500m freestyle performance in Glasgow, he paid tribute to Carlin, describing how he looked up to her, as a role model.
Carlin said: “I feel lucky to have been on teams with him. He’s one of those people that everyone is rooting for because he is just such an incredible person.
“It really touched me when he said that because I have been away on teams with him for years.
“For him to say that is so nice of him and so lovely. He deserves all the success: I know how hard he works and he’s such a genuinely lovely person as well.”