Pride restored. Australia ended on top of the podium in the pool, the men and women in the golden caps having spent much of six raucously supported days collecting gold, but in between there were enough home-made successes to suggest British swimming has its head above water once again.
The reinvigorating collective performance of the British swimmers here was personified by Ben Proud. The Englishman arrived in Glasgow with no great ambitions of winning medals, yet sped past two of Australia’s best young freestylers, James Magnussen and Cameron McEvoy, to snatch a dramatic gold in the 50m freestyle. Then as if to underline the point, England’s 100m medley relay quartet stunned the Australians to take the final gold.
It was the 19-year-old Proud’s second gold of the Games – in his first he had beaten two of South Africa’s best, Chad le Clos and Roland Schoeman, to win the 50m butterfly. This is a young man quick off his blocks.
Proud’s swim was the British highlight of the closing night in the pool, but there were others worthy of inclusion on the show reel; England’s barnstorming relay team victory, Georgia Davies, who won a second Welsh gold in successive evenings with victory in the 50m backstroke, one of three Welsh medals in the sessions, and Dan “Freedom” Wallace, who produced one of his now trademark late surges to seize silver ahead of Le Clos in the 200m individual medley. He donned his kilt to receive his second medal and Scottish sport has found a new cult hero, at least until the football season starts.
“That silver was the cherry on top,” said Wallace. “If every competition was like that it would be great but I’m not sure many will top this. My dream is to be famous so I guess this is where it all starts.”
Wallace wants to inspire a new generation of Scottish swimmers into the pool. His generation of young British swimmers has done a pretty good job in that direction over the past six nights. Proud has led the way – and now has a curious level of fame of his own, with Battersea Cats and Dogs Home naming a Rottweiler after him. He is one of three teenage English medallists – another of them, Adam Peaty, won his second gold, in the 4x100m relay medley.
Proud grew up in Malaysia, where he watched the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games aged four, before being sent to school at Plymouth College, the alma mater of Tom Daley and, more relevantly, Ruta Meilutyte, who won Olympic gold aged 15. She may be younger than her Plymouth team-mates but the Lithuanian is an inspiration, as is the man who guides them.
Jon Rudd, the swimming coach at Plymouth, has taken on head coach duties with the England team here.
There were minimal celebrations planned by Proud, unlike for the Australian team by the look of their mood poolside as they finished with 19 gold medals. For Proud the European Championships are looming.
“I’m going to have a day off and then get back into training,” he said. “I enjoy swimming and there is no point ruining something [by celebrating]. I’m swimming at my peak right now.”
There was a second medal in two nights for Jazz Carlin, but this time she had to settle for silver in the 400m freestyle behind Lauren Boyle, the New Zealander she had beaten to gold in the 800m. Davies snaked out a hand to take gold ahead of England’s Lauren Quigley by 0.13sec in the 50m backstroke, while Daniel Jervis, an 18-year-old from Neath, claimed bronze in the 1500m.