Myles makes waves in hunt for black gold

Teenage kicks in the pool as Crouch-Anderson goes to great lengths to keep British swimming on the crest of a wave
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The Independent Online

You can wait a while for a young British swimming prospect with great potential linked to a double-barrelled name and suddenly, like the proverbial London bus, two come along together. First there was the backstroker Chris Walker-Hebborn, 19, featured earlier in this series, who has gone on to become a British champion and is about to represent Team GB in the World Championships in Rome. Following in his wake is freestyler Myles Crouch-Anderson, 16 last week (they share the same birthday) and launching his own precocious ascent towards London 2012 with his international debut in the European Youth Olympic Festival in Tampere, Finland, which begins next weekend.

It will be the first time he has competed overseas and his emergence is all the more significant because it heralds an exciting breakthrough for the sport. For Crouch-Anderson is black, and in Britain, black swimmers are even thinner in the water than Olympic-sized pools.

Indeed, there are few in global competition. We all remember Eric "The Eel" Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, who won brief Olympic fame by splashing his way to the finish in the 100 metres freestyle in Sydney in a time more suited to the 200m. But the Eel then slipped into obscurity.

That is unlikely to be the destiny of the engaging Northampton youngster who has already made his mark spectacularly at junior level with a clutch of age-group records, and who, according to one of Britain's national coaches, Mark Perry, who has helped guide his career, "is one of the most talented swimmers in the country".

With the sport on the crest of a wave after Beijing, Crouch-Anderson, whose British-born father is of Jamaican descent and whose mother is English, heads for Finland as part of a 61-strong British team in a multi-sports event that has been a launching pad for many successful Olympians, Rebecca Adlington and Kelly Holmes among them. "I'm thrilled to be going because it was always my ambition to be part of a British team by the time I was 16," he says.

Swimming is one of the six sports in a bi-annual festival contested by 49 nations. Crouch-Anderson competes in the 400m and 1500m freestyle.

His interest in swimming began as a seven-year-old when his dad Tony, a logistics manager, starting taking him to the local baths. "I liked it right away. It was good all-round exercise and also quite cheap. I've always loved swimming and now competing against others is the best part of it. I remember my first event was something called a Puffin Gala and I was really ill, sick with nerves, but once I got in the pool it was all gone. When I got into the national age groups I was shocked how good the competition was. I realised I wasn't the biggest and the baddest around and I had to go back to the drawing board. I was rubbish at every other sport I tried, football, rugby, all sorts, and I can't run to save my life.

"Swimming's a strange sport. I think when I'm training eight times a week [he rises at 4.30am to fit in twice-daily pool time] that I can't wait to stop, but as soon as I get a week off, I can't wait to get back in again."

He acknowledges there are few successful black swimmers in Britain or indeed worldwide. "Most black kids go into athletics, boxing or football – all the big-money sports – so if you go into swimming it's about love and passion because there's no money in it.

"I've heard all of that stuff about black people's muscle fibres not being right for swimming but I haven't got a clue about that. I just get on with it."

His sporting heroes are Michael Phelps ("the greatest") and British Olympian David Davies, with whom he has trained several times. "I can relate to David's events and I'd be happy to be like him. I used to see him once a week on a Saturday when I trained at Loughborough University and he has given me quite a few tips and you pick things up just by watching him."

His favourite event is the 400m freestyle and his biggest achievement "winning the nationals last year when I was the underdog". Looking ahead, he says the Commonwealth Games in Delhi next year is an option, but his real objective is 2012. "That would be awesome. I think I have a realistic chance because there is time for me to grow and train. I can feel myself improving almost daily. In these past couple of weeks I have been really sharp both mentally and physically."

Jacquie Marshall, his personal coach for most of his career, says: "He has developed so much this year and is learning all the time. He's a pretty motivated young man. I first coached him when he was a little boy and he was outstanding then. In his first year at the nationals we thought 'Wow', he was great and he has progressed really well. Last year was a phenomenal one for him. When he won his age group, he was the youngest in it. Now we are looking for a really fast time in the European event. I can see him winning the 400."

There are only a handful of swimmers in Britain from the ethnic communities but, says Marshall, a few more are coming through and the success of Crouch-Anderson should act as a spur. "I don't think it is as much they can't do it as that swimming is a sport that has never attracted them, but once they do take it up they find it's great."

So, could this schoolboy swordfish become Britain's first black swimming champion? That really would be a Myles-stone.

Message from an icon: David Davies

I first heard of Myles just before I went to Beijing last year. He'd done 3min 57sec for the 400 free, which was about 16 seconds better than I did at that age. His old coach Mark Perry, who is now head of open water for British Swimming, was telling me how talented this kid was.

With all those glowing references I thought I should check him out so after Beijing I invited him to train with us at Loughborough. Unfortunately after the Olympics I'd taken a long break and was really unfit and he absolutely wiped the floor with me.

He's a nice, soft-spoken lad, always asking questions and really keen. He's been up working with us several times since and has done very well. I'm pleased he's going to the European Youth Olympic Festival, which was a great springboard for me for the Olympics. It will be a terrific experience and give him a good shot at doing something really special in the future.

I like his approach to the sport because coming to train with the seniors can be quite daunting at his age. But he mixed in well with us and his dedication shines through. He seems to be going about things the right way with his training and fitting it in with his school work. He's obviously aiming to get something out of his sport and not doing it for a laugh.

Is he a good prospect for 2012? Well, I don't want to put too much pressure on him because going from a promising young talent to the senior stage is always a difficult transition. But he has exactly the right attitude. You can have all the talent in the world but if your attitude is wrong, forget it.

All the attributes are there for him. He should go for it and can do very well. It is good to see youngsters from his ethnic background coming through because there are very few, not only in Britain but the world. It'd be a great incentive for others if he makes it.

Welshman David Davies (aka Dai Splash), 24, is Britain's leading long-distance swimmer, winning Olympic bronze, world and European silver and Commonwealth gold at 1500m freestyle. In Beijing he won silver in the new Olympic event of men's marathon 10km open water. He competes over 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle in this month's World Championships.