Nirvana was within reach, within the boundaries of genuine, exciting possibility, as both Hannah Miley and Ross Murdoch powered towards the conclusion of their respective swimming finals in Gold Coast yesterday.
Both reigning Commonwealth Games champions, the Scots led their rivals out of the final turn, a defence of the realm tantalising close.
However, both were dethroned at the very last, Miley’s dreams of a third successive 400 metres individual medley title vanquished by Aimee Wilmott and Murdoch’s 200m breaststroke crown snatched away by James Wilby in what was a steady start in the pool for England in their private battle with Australia.
Miley emerged emotional but steadfast, the tears bubbling as she clinched her fiancé Euan with a silver pendant dangling from her neck. So often, including at Glasgow 2014, it has been Wilmott who has felt the pangs of coming off second-best to her long-time domestic rival. This time, the 25-year-old was relentless in pursuing her veteran foe and then stealing a march at the very last.
The margin was a mere 0.26 seconds with the victor – based at Stirling University – recording a time of 4:34.90. Miley, her tunnel vision absolute, did not see the raid coming but she had no regrets about her performance, about the decision to rededicate herself after coming fourth at the 2016 Olympics, about continuing to push herself to the limit with all the sacrifice and toil it entails.
“I was very firm in saying that it’s not about the medals for me,” she confirmed. “At the age of 28, you know, there’s nobody really in the Commonwealth still swimming the 400 medley at the age of 28. To be on the podium for the third time after 12 years of racing the event, it’s kind of nice to know that I’m still a contender.
She has other opportunities here, beginning with tomorrow’s 200m individual medley, but this was her golden shot. Upon returning to her base in Aberdeen, inevitably there will be some discussion with her father and coach Patrick over whether August’s European Championships in Glasgow – for which she has now qualified for the British team – might be a more fitting stage from which to bow out rather than push onward to Tokyo 2020.
But she said: “I want people to know that I’m still a fighter. I might not be the tallest. I’ve said it before. I might not be the strongest. But I’ll always be the hardest working athlete I can possibly be. I hope to make an impression on people and show that age is just a number.”
Murdoch was closer still to maintaining his supremacy with just 27-hundredths of a second separating James Wilby from the Scot. It required a magnificent surge over the final 25m to propel the Englishman past in a time of 2:08.05 but, having battled his inner demons and reshaped his approach following Olympic disappointment, this was a performance that suggests the 24-year-old might yet retain his European crown come the summer.
“I’m not standing here trying to sell a sob story – I don’t want anybody feeling sorry for me at all,” said Murdoch, who will hope to be in proximity to Adam Peaty in today’s 100m final. “That’s 0.6 faster than I’ve ever been at this time of year, so actually that’s going pretty well. Ultimately the target this year is Glasgow.”
Behind, Lothians swimmers Craig Benson and Calum Tait were sixth and seventh, while Lucy Hope was eighth in the women’s 200m free, won by Canada’s Taylor Ruck, with Stephen Milne eighth in the men’s 400m where Mack Horton and Jack McLoughlin locked in an Australian 1-2 ahead of James Guy.