WHILE some 20-year-olds look forward to a big party during the weeks leading up to their 21st birthday, 200 metres backstroke British champion Craig McNally has a different kind of celebration on his mind as that particular milestone approaches.
The Heriot-Watt accounting and finance student and former Balerno High School pupil will, instead, hope to be spending his special day feeling the glow of having contributed to Europe’s first victory over the USA when he takes to the pool for the biennial Duel competition in Glasgow next month.
The Tollcross International Swimming Centre, host to the sport’s events in next year’s Commonwealth Games, will stage the two-day competition on December 20 and 21 with McNally and Olympic 200m breaststroke silver medallist Michael Jamieson leading the European charge.
“It’s my 21st birthday on the 22nd (the day after the competition) so yeah, that would be pretty good, wouldn’t it?” McNally agreed when asked how satisfying a victory would be.
“I only found out about a month ago that I had been selected, so I’m really excited to be taking part. I remember being in the crowd in 2009 in Manchester and thinking how fun it looked so I can’t wait to be a part of it now. It’s really the only thing we have where it’s head-to-head against another nation.
“America has got some of the best backstroke swimmers in the world, so it’s a good opportunity for me to get some practice in against some top international competitors.”
An event which has been likened to golf’s Ryder Cup, Europe have yet to come out on top of their opponents since the competition’s debut in 2009, the previous format of Australia versus the USA having been discontinued in favour of a European team.
This season, McNally has produced some of his best results to date, the Warrender club prodigy securing 200m backstroke gold at the British Championships in July before a sixth-place finish in the World Championships final in Barcelona with a time of 1.55.67, breaking his own Scottish record in the process.
“2013 has seen me break through into the higher ranks of international swimming,” McNally observed. “Coming sixth at the World Championships in Barcelona in August was a really good result, as my main aim this year was to just qualify for the competition and then see how I get on. I try not to put too many expectations on myself and I was pretty surprised with the time that I managed, but, at the same time, a time I thought I was more than able to produce.
“I’ve still been doing the hard work in the pool, but this year I have been doing extra things on top of that like working with the nutritionist, the physio and trying to build up my strength in the gym.”
Thrust into the deep end as a raw 17-year-old after being named in the Commonwealth Games squad of 2010, finishing 11th in his favoured 200m event, McNally believes he has matured as swimmer and as an individual who understands what he wants, and how he can achieve it. He accepts that, with a rise in stature as his ranking position has moved up to second in Europe, he will be expected to deliver next year.
He said: “I think with the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, I was only 17 and starting to break through into the realms of international swimming, so it was more about the experience than going for medals. I’ll obviously still be 21 at the Games next year and I think I am getting towards that stage in my career where I will be aiming for gold.
“I’m lying second just now in Europe and the swimmer lying ahead of me isn’t part of the Commonwealth nations, but I cannot take that for granted, with a lot of people aiming to make some big jumps within the next year.
“The home support really means a lot to all of us. The crowd is what creates the buzz for the swimmers and gets you ready for the race, so to have them there is a big bonus for us all.”