England’s James Wilby and Scotland’s Ross Murdoch savoured their Commonwealth Games medals on Friday night after both had questioned their swimming futures following last year’s Olympics.
Wilby and Murdoch were one-two in the men’s 200 metres breaststroke on the Gold Coast in 2018 but settled for silver and bronze respectively in Birmingham, behind world record holder Zac Stubblety-Cook as Australia claimed five of the seven gold medals on offer on the opening day in the pool.
But while Wilby was unable to retain his title despite leading the way for the first 150m before finishing 0.52 seconds behind Stubblety-Cook’s winning time of two minutes and 8.07secs, he was satisfied after reflecting on a tumultuous past 12 months.
“It’s been a strange year, a bit of a rollercoaster, so I’m really happy to do that,” said Wilby, who won one of England’s two silvers at the Sandwell Aquatic Centre.
“Basically I came off the back of the Olympics and really struggled with where I was at and not knowing whether I wanted to continue swimming.
“It was a pretty rough two years leading into the Olympics and that all kind of came crashing down after the Olympics.
“I had to take a bit of time out the water, slowly rebuild into the water, get expert help and really work on myself. That’s put me in a really good position so I’m just really happy.
“Whatever medal I get, whatever place I get, as long as I put in the effort. The main thing for me now is just being happy in the sport and really making my family proud.”
Murdoch, gold medallist in the event in 2014, briefly retired at the end of last year but did not disclose his decision publicly and then performed a U-turn a couple of months later.
“Now I stand here five months later with that bronze around my neck on day one of the meet and there’s five days to go,” said Murdoch. “The job’s yet to be finished but this is just the start.
“Walking off the pool deck, it got me, when I was just coming off the race. I kind of put my head in my hands, it was just surreal.”
Murdoch was fourth heading into the final 50m but edged out Australia’s Matthew Wilson by 0.16s on a night where Scotland collected three bronzes, with Katie Shanahan finishing third in the women’s 400m individual medley despite being the second slowest qualifier for the final.
“After the race I was really emotional,” said Shanahan. “I didn’t actually believe it happened.”
The English quartet of Lewis Burras, Tom Dean, Anna Hopkin and Freya Anderson took silver in the mixed 4x100m freestyle, finishing 1.27s adrift of Australia’s winning time of 3mins 22.45s in a cacophony of noise at the arena purpose-built for these Games.
“The whole energy around this is bigger than any other competition we’ve been a part of,” said double Olympic champion Dean. “Everyone’s calling it the biggest thing since London 2012.
“It’s getting the coverage we want, there are eyes on swimming, eyes on the English stars and that’s only going to do great things for the sport.”