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No hangover for Benson as he follows path of a legend

April 10, 2013
Craig Benson couldn't wait to get back into training after the Olympics.( Picture: Getty Images)

Craig Benson couldn’t wait to get back into training after the Olympics.( Picture: Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of talk about a post-Olympic hang-over.

That crashing low which came after the fanfare of London 2012 had died down and normal life resumed. A period that every athlete dreads when motivation flounders and even getting out of bed each day can be a struggle.

But, apparently, Craig Benson didn’t get the memo. The Livingston swimmer, who made his Olympic debut in London last August, would appear to be blessed with a hardier constitution than most, professing to have been chomping at the bit to get training again.

“I had five-and-a-half weeks out of the pool after the Olympics – twice as long as I would normally have had,” he said. “I enjoyed my time off, went to New York with my brother, and when I came back I didn’t feel the lull people talked about. I was motivated straight away. My coach wasn’t expecting that, either.”

The much-needed carrot, he said, was beginning his pursuit of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and already over the winter months he has made good inroads into that preparation.

“It’s been going really well,” he said. “I went to Australia for four weeks in January with my team-mate Craig McNally and we trained at the Brothers club alongside Emily Seebohm, who got an Olympic silver in the backstroke, and Brittany Elmslie, who took gold in the 4×100 metres freestyle. It was tough but a good experience.”

Benson announced his arrival on the international swimming scene last March, pulling off a major upset to finish second in the 100m breaststroke at the British trials ahead of Scottish com-patriots Michael Jamieson and Kris Gilchrist, claiming a spot in the Olympic team.

Gilchrist, a former British and Commonwealth record holder, is now his coach, seeing Benson have to adapt to his former adversary becoming a mentor. “Kris started coaching a month after the trials,” he said. “It did feel a bit strange to begin with as I had seen him as a big rival, but in the end it didn’t take long to adjust.

“It’s been amazing having Kris there as we swim the same stroke and he is so experienced, having been around at senior level for a long time. I’m learning new stuff from him every day. He is one of the best Scottish breaststrokers ever and now I have him poolside coaching me.”

Benson trains with Warrender Baths Club, whose illustrious alumni include Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion David Wilkie, under the tutelage of Laurel Bailey and Gilchrist. He puts in upwards of six hours at day at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh, a far cry from Bubbles, the Livingston leisure complex where his swimming career began.

There are those who may feel suffocated by the expectation to live up to a hefty legacy stretching back 125 years as Warrender’s does, but it only inspires Benson. “Looking back over that history reinforces you’re in a great place,” he said. “David Wilkie is one of my idols.”

Already Benson has amassed an impressive clutch of titles, including 2011 world junior champion in the 100m breaststroke. He is a world and European junior silver medallist and current British record holder for 14-, 16- and 17-year-old age groups in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.

But now Benson is keen to make his mark at senior level. Before Glasgow, his main goal will be qualifying for this summer’s World Swimming Championships in Barcelona.

Today, Benson will begin his challenge in the Scottish Gas National Age Groups Championships – now opened up to senior athletes including Benson, Hannah Miley, Caitlin McClatchey and Keri-Anne Payne – which get under way at the Royal Commonwealth Pool this morning. Over the coming days Benson will compete in the 100m and 200m breaststroke, 200m and 400m individual medley, 100m and 200m butterfly and potentially the 100m backstroke.

“It’s a lot, but it will be good for training and to get some race practice in,” he said. “Training is the priority as the moment, so I’ll be doing that early in the morning before the competitions. I love to race, so I would still like to pick up a couple of medals. That would be nice.”

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