(Credit: UEL Sports)
Jack Ball reports as UEL star Aimee Willmott wins three medals at the British Swimming Championships
Aimee Willmott gave a superb account of herself at the recent Olympic trials, grabbing a clean sweep of medals to put herself in a strong position for Team GB selection ahead of the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
Should the 23-year-old be selected, she will be the first University of East London (UEL) student to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
The trials took place during the annual British Championships at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre in Glasgow.
The UEL sports scholar reached a total of three finals during the six-day event and won a clean sweep of medals, including a gold in the 200m Butterfly to become British Champion.
Day one saw Willmott take to the pool for the final of her main event, the 400m Individual Medley (IM). Despite narrowly coming second to Commonwealth champion Hannah Miley, the Middlesbrough-born swimmer’s time (4:35.52) puts her in contention for Olympic selection.
Willmott pushed Miley through the majority of the final and the lead was passed between the two swimmers. But, it was through the freestyle leg that Miley secured her victory in front of a home crowd.
Tonight I finished second at the British champs in 400IM under the consideration time for an Olympic spot!️ crossed I’ll be on the to
After a day of rest, Willmott’s most glorious achievement came on day three, when she won the 200m Butterfly final. It was another thrilling race, with Willmott coming from behind to beat Alys Thomas to the wall by just 0.05 of a second to take gold.
“I knew it was going to come down to the finish,” Wilmott told the British Swimming official site. “It really does [mean a lot], especially after finishing second in the 400m IM. It wasn’t finishing second, it was the time that I was a little bit more disappointed with.”
“My head really wasn’t in it. I knew I had to come away and forget about that swim to refocus, knowing that I had two other swims coming up. I’m really happy with that result – it was a really tough race and all the girls swam amazing. But, to just get the finish was bitter sweet.”
“I was coming into the wall thinking ‘I have no idea who is in front’. I didn’t know whether it was me or Alys next time to me. I knew it was going to come down to the finish. I worked out I had just enough to get an extra stroke in so I did two really quick ones and just hit the wall, hoping that it would be enough,” she added.
Willmott’s 400m IM time fell just outside the required time of 4:35.46 (set by British Swimming and stated in their selection policy) however, she does hold the second fastest 400m IM time in the world this season and could still be selected.
Finally, on day five, Willmott bagged a bronze in the 200m IM after finishing behind Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (gold) and Hannah Miley (silver) to conclude a brilliant overall performance.
Since joining UEL to study part-time alongside her swimming, Willmott has trained as part of the London Aquatics Centre Performance Programme (LACPP), based at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where she competed during the London 2012 games.
This time around, however, Willmott has her sights set on bringing home an Olympic medal for Great Britain.
“To do an Olympics is the pinnacle of anyone’s career but this time I’m hopefully going to earn my place on the team, win a medal and make a difference,” she said speaking to UEL earlier this month.
Willmott was just 19 years of age when she swam at the London games, finishing 11th in the 400m IM. Whilst she didn’t medal, she was following in the footsteps of her father, Stuart, who competed in the same event at the 1984 Los Angeles games and so it was still a special achievement for her.
Since then, Willmott has returned to the pool in the LAC almost every day for her training and says the memory of competing there in front of a home crowd four years ago is what continues to inspire her to train hard even when it gets tough.
“London 2012 was bit surreal for me,” she told UEL. “Looking back, it doesn’t really sink in that I’ve already swam at an Olympics.”
“To have the opportunity to come back and train at a pool I’ve got so many great memories from makes training worthwhile. When you’re waking up early in the morning and you don’t want to go, you remember you’re swimming in the Olympic pool, where history was once made.”
Click here for action and interviews from the pool (credit: UEL Sports)
Aimee made the trip to Glasgow alongside fellow UEL student and LACPP team mate Michael Gunning, plus Head Coach Lisa Bates.
“I’m so proud of Aimee, she swam great all week. It’s weeks like these that swimmers work so tirelessly for all season, so to see Aimee achieve what she did was amazing,” Bates told Rising East.
“As for the rest of the team, I’m so proud of them too. Each of the swimmers travelled to Scotland with their own individual goals and to see them all succeed was phenomenal.”
Highlights for Gunning included a 5th place finish in the 200m Butterfly final, in which he recorded his best time for two years, as well as a well as a strong swim in the 200m Freestyle where he set a new personal best time, narrowly missing out on a spot in the final.
Gunning continues to show great improvements and will certainly be looking ahead to the European University Championships and Nationals at the end of this season.
The LACPP also had junior swimmers competing in Glasgow. Edmund Ashton, who turned 18-years-old on day one of the championships, swam well in both the 100m (sixth) and 200m (seventh) Target Tokyo Breaststroke finals. The Target Tokyo finals place swimmers on the selectors’ radar for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Junior swimmer Ellie Mitchell, 15, finished in the top 18 in all of her events (50m Freestyle/100m Backstroke/200m Backstroke) whilst Amy Godsave and Holly Taylor, both 16, swam well to set new personal best times in the 50m Freestyle.