Fran Halsall’s golden grin lost its usual sheen on Thursday night as the poster girl of British Swimming was unable to seal her place at the Rio Olympics.
Tears of sadness and frustration rather than pride and joy welled in her eyes as she stood atop the podium at the Tollcross Swimming Centre where she won four medals at the Commonwealth Games two years ago. Her time of 24.48 seconds was comfortable enough for victory in the 50 metres freestyle at the British Championships, which are doubling as the Olympic trials, but was nearly half a second outside the automatic qualifying time of 23.97, a mark she has bettered several times before.
Hence, the 32nd gold medal of a career that stretches back 10 years has never felt so bittersweet. “I’m gutted that I did not get the Olympic time,” said Halsall, who turned 26 on Tuesday. “It’s not about being British champion, it’s about being Olympic champion. It’s not good enough. It’s hard, the trials, for me. It is me against myself, like a time trial.
“I have been doing really well in training. The training has been fabulous so to swim like that in that time was really disappointing. It has been the perfect season but that has not translated into times.”
Halsall will get another opportunity in the 100m freestyle on Friday. It is a mark of how high the British selectors have set the bar that only one victor, Max Litchfield in the 400m individual medley, automatically qualified for Rio.
Halsall and others must now rely on the discretion of Bill Furniss, the Great Britain head coach, and his fellow selectors, when they announce a squad of up to 30 swimmers next Thursday.
Litchfield, a 21-year-old from Yorkshire, can already start dreaming of glory having overcome Roberto Pavoni in a time of 4min 12.05sec.
“I’ve made the team now and then come Rio obviously we can look to make a final and kick on there and get a medal,” Litchfield said. “There’s no reason why I can’t – 4:08 won the worlds so there’s no reason why I can’t drop a few seconds and get amongst the medals.”
Earlier there was a significant upset in the men’s 100m freestyle final where Stirling University’s Duncan Scott, delighted the crowd by beating Benjamin Proud by sixth hundredths of a second. The 18-year-old, though, still expects the selectors to stick with Proud, the Commonwealth 50m champion.
“Ben’s been amazing this year so if they choose to take him that’s a great decision,” Scott said. “I need to prove myself over the 200 freestyle as well. Nothing’s written down unless you have the qualifying time, which I don’t.”
Jazmin Carlin and Aimee Willmott, winners in the 800m freestyle and 200m butterfly respectively, were also well outside the automatic qualifying time.