James Guy made the most of his last full week off before the Olympics a fortnight ago. The fastest man over 200 metres this year stayed well away from the pool, instead using the time to go fishing and dating.
The fishing, Guy admits, was the more successful pursuit but the break as a whole served an important purpose. “It allowed me to clear my head completely and bring my feet back down to earth,” Guy says. “I’ve got the focus I need.” Now the serious business begins, with the start of the European Swimming Championships at the London Aquatics Centre, the last major meet before Rio, which run from today until Sunday.
On the opening day, Guy hopes to add the European 400 metres freestyle title to the silver medal he won at the World Championships last year. The 20-year-old went one better in the 200 metres in Kazan, beating Sun Yang, the Olympic champion, in a British record time of 1 min 45.14 sec. He came within five hundredths of a second of equalling that time at the British Championships in Glasgow last month.
So, from being a blip on everyone’s radar at the last European Swimming Championships in 2014, Guy now finds himself as one of the main draws and targets to be knocked off. Not that he sees things any differently.
“Nothing has changed at all since Kazan,” Guy said. “I still need to train my backside off every day. You can’t ease off in any way. If anything, you have to work even harder. That suits me fine, I enjoy that challenge. Every time I swim, I want to be the best. I don’t want to come second or third.”
Even if the equation remains the same for Guy as an individual, British Swimming as a whole is in a very different place to where it was after the London 2012 Olympics. A return of a single silver medal and two bronze medals was severely underwhelming, but under Bill Furniss and Chris Spice, Britain delivered its highest-ever medal haul at the World Championships with five gold, one silver and three bronze medals.
Adam Peaty, Guy’s room-mate for that event, delivered two individual gold medals in the 50 and 100 metres breaststroke and is clearly a kindred spirit. “Adam and I are great friends,” Guy said. “We can learn a lot from each I other. I watch how he does things. He is an animal in the pool.
“For British Swimming, with Bill Furniss and Chris Spice putting their plans in place, everyone is swimming faster, so they obviously know what they are doing. Last year’s World Championships were the best we have ever had, so something is going right. We can deliver. We are in the right headspace now. The work has been done. Now it is just fine-tuning things towards the Games.”
Hence, it may be unrealistic to expect another assault on the national record. Guy has not tapered his training in the build-up for the event, which is likely to be the same for many of his rivals, including Serbia’s Velimir Stjepanovic, the European champion in the 200 and 400 metres. Guy will also compete in the 100 metres butterfly.
“These are a stepping stone and a process meet for a lot of people who will be swimming there,” Guy said. “I will be trying some new things and different tactics there. I can’t say too much, but all I will say is watch out.
“I am not going to be shaving or resting before the event, so I would not expect to be going faster than the British Championships. Anything around a 3:44-3:45 would be a good swim in the 400 metres. In the 200 metres, a 1:46 low or high would be solid.
“As soon as I get in there, I will do everything I can to win. There are hopefully going to be loads of fans there, so you want to repay them for their support. Swimming in front of a home crowd is always special, particularly at the London Aquatics Centre.”
The last time Guy swam there, it was as a 16-year-old for the London Olympic trials, although he was nowhere near qualifying. Instead, he watched London 2012 on television spellbound as Michael Phelps made history by becoming the all-time record holder for most Olympic medals won. Even in Kazan last year, he was awestruck by standing in the blocks alongside Ryan Lochte.
That novelty has slowly faded away and there is no doubt that Guy feels he belongs on the big stage. “I used to get very nervous before a race, but now I am more relaxed and more pumped in a way,” Guy said. “I can put more emotion into my racing now. I think about family and friends who have helped me. I channel that positively.
“I used to be pretty awestruck by swimming against some of my heroes, but it is not like that any more. Once you are in the pool, it does not matter who is beside you. It is just another competitor who I want to beat.”
Tickets are available at www.euroaquatics2016.london/ tickets