“Big year, big goals” as Olympian Jacob Whittle targets Paris 2024 after joining elite British Swimming squad at University of Bath
He’s still only a teenager but swimmer Jacob Whittle is determined to become a double Olympian this summer – and says moving his training base to the University of Bath has fired up his medal ambitions.
Whittle, who joined David McNulty’s hugely-successful British Swimming Performance Centre training group in September, was the youngest member of Team GB’s swimming squad when he competed at the rescheduled Tokyo Games in 2021 aged 16.
That was only the second senior international meet for the freestyle specialist who has since gone on to establish himself as a regular competitor on the global stage, winning medals at the World and European Championships as well as the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Now, with less than six months until Paris 2024, he is looking to return to the Olympic stage – but has the small matter of a World Championships next month and the fiercely-competitive British Swimming Trials in April to negotiate first.
“It’s a big year and I’ve got big goals,” said Whittle. “Dave has got big ambitions for me and the squad too but for now the worry isn’t about getting a medal, it’s about just getting on the team.
“Both of my events are really strong for British Swimming. The 4x100m freestyle relay has real potential and the 4x200m is obviously a gold-medal winning squad. The competition is stacked in this country, so the hardest part is actually qualifying. It’s a good problem to have, though, and it makes it all the more exciting and sharpens the focus.”
Guiding Whittle through this Olympic year is renowned coach McNulty, whose swimmers have won 13 medals at the past three Games including double gold in Tokyo for Tom Dean in the 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle.
“I was looking for a change and had a really good conversation with Dave,” said Whittle, who had previously trained at Loughborough and with Derventio eXcel in Derbyshire.
“I’d worked with him on some relay squads and it was always a good experience, so there was an initial bond there, but it wasn’t until I got here in September that I worked with him properly. He’s quite a character and we always have a laugh and joke, which is what I enjoy. We know when to turn it on in a session – if it needs to be serious, we are – but it’s always enjoyable.
“The training programme is a lot different here but it’s working for me. My first meet while training in Bath was in Rotterdam just before Christmas and I set a new 100m freestyle PB [48.03], so that’s a positive sign that the work is paying off.
“It’s a really good environment to be in. The coaches are great, the team’s great, Bath itself is beautiful and the Sports Training Village is a really good place to be. As Dave always says, when you walk through the front doors here it’s not just a swimming pool – there are lots of people from different sports, there’s a buzz and you really feel part of a performance environment.”
The move has also reunited Whittle with Jamie Main, the former Derventio eXcel Head Coach who now works with McNulty as National Coach for Olympic Swimming at the Bath Performance Centre.
“It’s great to be back with Jamie,” said Whittle. “He’s not my lead coach but he knows me as a swimmer and he still provides input and feedback.”
Whittle will gain more international experience during February when he and Dean head to Doha for the 2024 World Aquatics Championships, where their primary goal is to secure an Olympic quota spot for Team GB in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. Training partner Brodie Williams is also competing in Qatar.
The trio will then join other members of the Bath Performance Centre squad at a warm-weather training camp on Australia’s Gold Coast before heading back to Bath to finalise their preparations for the all-important British Swimming Championships, taking place at the London Aquatics Centre – scene of Michael Jamieson’s 200m breaststroke silver at London 2012 – from 2nd to 7th April.