Swimming: Tancock grabs gold as GB finish on crest of wave

Backstroke glory and silver for Miley lift Britain up medal table while China celebrate Sun world record

Liam Tancock provided the British highlight of a stunning final day of the World Championships in Shanghai yesterday. Tancock's gold in the 50m backstroke, a victory achieved by seven 100ths of a second, and a silver for Hannah Miley, helped Britain finish sixth in the medal table, above Australia and France.

Tancock's fingertip victory ahead of France's Camille Lacourt enabled him to become the first Briton to defend a world title since David Wilkie 36 years ago. With Rebecca Adlington's gold in the 800m on Saturday, her first world title, it allowed Britain to end the meet on a par with their performance in Rome two years ago.

Miley's silver in the 400m medley was one of a number of encouraging performances by British swimmers. The 21-year-old Scot is an increasingly convincing prospect for London next year, and is a good tip to claim Britain's first gold of the Games. Adlington, who was poolside yesterday to watch Tancock's triumph, summed up the mood in the camp by tweeting: "Bring on 2012."

They are not the only ones relishing next year. The Americans topped the table and, in Ryan Lochte, had the man of the meet. He took his fifth gold yesterday, with a comfortable win in the 400m medley. Michael Phelps is easing up through the gears towards London, but the laidback Lochte, 26, will take some stopping.

If Lochte took the overall honours from Shanghai, it was a home favourite who produced the best individual performance. Sun Yang broke the oldest record in the sport, Grant Hackett's 10-year-old 14min 34.56sec in the 1500m. The 19-year-old, who had already won the 800m, shattered the field and then produced an outrageous final length of 25.94sec to set a new mark by 0.42sec. Look out for him in London.

There is no 50m backstroke in Olympic competition, but Tancock will be a contender in the 100m, a title he holds at Commonwealth level. Lacourt, who Tancock pipped yesterday in a flurry of arms, won the 100m in Shanghai. It was Tancock's fifth world medal in four championships.

He said: "What can I say? 2009 I became world champion and it was one of those special moments, standing on the podium, listening to the national anthem, waving to the crowd, my team-mates. To do it again two years later and retain the title against tough opposition... I loved it."

Tancock will head for Cyprus for a holiday before preparations for next year intensify. In March the British Olympic trials take place in the Aquatics Centre where the Games themselves will be held in less than a year.

Miley, who is also a Commonwealth gold medallist, made up ground to claim her place on the podium. She was lying sixth at the halfway mark and then turned into the final 100m in third but a strong freestyle leg took her into second behind the American Elizabeth Beisel. Miley said: "This is the closest thing to the Olympics. I'm so happy."

Adlington finally added a world title to her two Olympic golds with victory in the 800m freestyle. A thunderous last length took her past Lotte Friis, the defending champion, and she touched 0.69sec ahead of the Dane. Adlington had disappointed in Rome two years ago in the wake of her success in Beijing, but her performance back in China – she also took a silver in the 400m free – ups the expectation that she can repeat her Olympic feats in home waters. "I definitely think I'm the kind of person that can handle the pressure," said Adlington.

Six of the best

Great Britain finished sixth in the medals table and won these six medals:

Keri-anne Payne Became the first Briton to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London by winning gold in the 10km open water event, completing the course in two hours, one minute and 58.1 seconds.

Rebecca Adlington The 22-year-old won the 800m freestyle on Saturday, having also taken silver in the 400m freestyle the previous week.

Liam Tancock Secured Britain's third gold by defending his title in the 50m backstroke yesterday, clocking 24.50 seconds.

Ellen Gandy The 19-year-old took silver in the 200m butterfly.

Hannah Miley The 21-year-old was also among the medals for Britain, winning silver yesterday in the 400m individual medley.