Chris Walker-Hebborn books place at worlds as Bath swimmers win four medals at British Championships
Chris Walker-Hebborn booked his place at this summer’s FINA World Championships in Russia during an encouraging first day for University of Bath-based swimmers at the British Championships.
The Commonwealth champion posted a sub-53 second performance for the first time in his career to take the 100m backstroke title for a third successive year.
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor also struck gold at the London Aquatics Centre, powering past six-time champion Francesca Halsall during a stunning finish to the 100m freestyle final.
And there were silver medals for University of Bath student Andrew Willis in a world-class 200m breaststroke final and Jemma Lowe in the 200m butterfly.
Walker-Hebborn was one of three British swimmers on Tuesday to not only record victory but also set the qualifying standard for the World Championships in Kazan.
His time of 52.88 took him to the top of this year’s world rankings and Walker-Hebborn – who is coached by Dave McNulty and Graeme Antwhistle at the Bath National Performance Centre – was delighted with his performance.
“I’m tired but I’m overjoyed to have won three titles here at the British Championships,” he said.
“I saw Liam [Tancock] coming back at me and I just wanted to hold on so I was happy to dip under 53 seconds and make the time.
“I’ve been racing Liam since I was a little kid and he’s an absolute role model for me – he’s always professional and it’s great to talk to him and race against him.”
O’Connor was involved in one of the races of the evening, wowing the spectators as she made a stunning comeback in the last 15m to pip Halsall to 100m freestyle victory.
“I was up against some really quick girls in that event and, although I’ve been focussing more on my 200m free in training, I seem to be coming down in the sprints as well,” said the 19-year-old, whose time of 53.83 was just shy of the lifetime best she had set in the heats.
“Racing against Fran is great. She’s held the title in this race for a long time and she’s one of the best sprinters in the world, so it’s amazing to be able to go head to head like that.”
The most anticipated final of the night was the men’s 200m breaststroke, featuring an all-star line up of Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth medallists.
Willis was leading at the halfway stage and eventually took silver in 2:08.59 behind Adam Peaty, who smashed his lifetime best by more than a second.
London 2012 silver-medallist Michael Jamieson, Willis’ training partner at Bath, was sixth in 2:10.96.
Lowe – who missed the 2014 season through injury – completed the Bath National Training Centre medal haul when she won 200m butterfly silver in 2:09.36. Gold went to Hannah Miley.
Jay Lelliott and Tilly Gray, both members of Mark Skimming’s performance group at the University of Bath, also made finals on the opening day.
Lelliott was sixth in 400m freestyle in 3:49.55 and Gray was seventh behind Lowe in the 200m butterfly in 2:11.80.
The British Swimming Championships continue on Wednesday and will conclude on Saturday.