Commonwealth Games 2014: Siobhan O’Connor and Fran Halsall’s swimming wins lead British redemption

This has been a meeting dominated by Australia, but they always have come out on top at the Commonwealth Games and always will

Tollcross

On one of the side of the Tollcross pool stood Jon Rudd, arms folded. On the other sat Bill Furniss, arms folded. The head coaches of England and Great Britain respectively are not given to public displays of emotion – that is not what swimming coaches do – but there may well have been a few metaphorical punches of the air last night as England claimed two gold medals and then Scotland pushed Australia to the limits in a rousing final event of the night, the 200m freestyle relay.

This has been a meeting dominated by Australia, but they always have come out on top at the Commonwealth Games and always will. They are enjoying a redemptive week in Glasgow – and so are the British swimmers divided among the home nations. The  Commonwealths have become a psychiatrist’s couch where the failures of the London Olympics can be talked out without the weight of the whole world watching.

It was a good night for England and in particular Fran Halsall. Medal-less in London, she shot down the pool to win the 50m fly with an improbable amount of breathing space over such a short distance. It was her second gold in two days and came minutes after Siobhan O’Connor collected her fifth medal of the Games and a first gold with a commanding performance in the 200m individual medley, leading from start to finish to leave Alicia Coutts of Australia and Scotland’s Hannah Miley to contest silver and bronze.

It was the best swim of her young life and another sign of potentially brighter times to come. London was a disaster for Britain and Australia and both have undergone regime changes. Furniss, the man who steered Rebecca Adlington to her Olympic triumphs, took over as Britain’s head coach.

 

“We are all chuffed to bits because collectively, not just as England but as Britain with the Welsh results and the  Scottish results we have been doing amazingly,” said O’Connor, who now has a gold, three silvers and a bronze to her 18-year-old name.

“Australia came in ranked so far above us but we have put up such a good fight and had amazing results across the British swimmers. In the  England team there is such a good vibe and I’m really happy and proud to be part of it. I wasn’t sure I had it in me. My coach said to me I was just one race away from making it a better Games than I could have ever imagined.” Erraid Davies, aged just 13 and from the Shetland Isles, won bronze in the para-sport 100m breaststroke Erraid Davies, aged just 13 and from the Shetland Isles, won bronze in the para-sport 100m breaststroke

Her winning time of 2.08.21 was four seconds faster than she managed at last year’s World Championships. There are tougher tests ahead but the direction of travel looks good, as it does for Adam Peaty, another teenager already with a gold tucked inside his trunks who chases another in the 50m breaststroke tonight.

A truer test of the  Australians’ progress comes in next month’s Pan-Pacific Championships, where their medal winners here will be confronted by the formidable US. There was much soul searching after a solitary gold in London and a review of what went wrong, revealing a “toxic culture” within the team of late nights and indiscipline – the sort of behaviour that when you are winning is high jinks, when you are losing is a sporting death sentence for those in charge.

The man brought in to sort it out was Jacco Verthaeren, the Dutch coach behind Pieter van den Hoogenband’s sustained success. Last night they collected four golds, notably for James Magnussen, who led home a one-two-three in the 100m freestyle. They were then given an almighty scare by the home nation in the relay before Thomas Fraser-Holmes swam clear of Robbie Renwick on the final length.

The other English success came via a bronze for Liam Tancock in the 50m backstroke, while Scotland’s other medal was a bronze won in the para-sport 100m breaststroke where Erraid Davies, a 13-year-old from the Shetland Islands, took bronze. She looked  startled at her achievement. “I really don’t know how to tell my school friends,” she said. She became her country’s youngest ever medallist.

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