Swimming: Warrender star closer to Olympic dream

Craig Benson
Craig Benson
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Warrender’s Craig Benson has had a fantastic 2011 – and the icing on the cake comes this week when he makes his British senior team debut in the European Short-Course Championships in Poland.

The 17-year-old’s outstanding achievement this year was a victory in the 100 metre breaststroke at the World Junior Championships in Peru. He also collected a silver in the 50m event. The big breakthrough continued with a golden hat-trick at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man in September.

Now he has set his sights even higher with the London Olympic trials in London at the start of March the big goal.

“I’m about ten years younger than some of the guys at the top but I am working my way up,” pointed out Benson, who will be up against fellow Scots Kris Gilchrist and Michael Jamieson in the breaststroke when swimming begins in Szczecin on Thursday.

“I know it is going to be tough at the Olympic trials in London in March but it is a huge motivation to try and qualify for the team. It would be so great to be swimming at my first Olympics in front of a home crowd.

“I went to the World Juniors in Peru knowing it was going to be very difficult but hoping to get a bronze medal. So to come home with the gold and silver was absolutely amazing.

“The Commonwealth Youth Games carried more expectation. I aimed to get three golds – and I did it which was obviously very satisfying.”

Benson admits his GB call-up came as a surprise.

“It was a real shock getting the GB selection letters. It is a first British senior cap and it feels really good that I’ve been noticed at that level.”

When London was awarded the Olympics in 2005, Craig was just 11 and a member of Livingston Dolphins. Competing in London was not even a wild dream.

“I remember watching it all on TV,” he said. “But even a year ago I would never ever have imagined that I might make Team GB. But if I keep improving at the same rate over the next few months then I should have a chance.”

A sixth year pupil at James Young High School in Livingston, Craig joined Warrender and head coach Laurel Bailey four years ago and he has gone from strength to strength, while also making a success of his schoolwork, proving he has the appetite for hard work. “I’ve already got a couple of Highers and so I’ve got a pretty easy sixth year at school.

“I’m taking a lot of time out to concentrate on swimming,” he added.

Bailey is thrilled by the youngster’s surge to prominence, but knows that Olympic qualification is a massive challenge. “London is now a goal but Craig is really young,” she cautioned. “It is really the 2016 Olympics in Brazil that is the long-term plan.

“Craig is a great talent and has a great appetite for training. He soaks up the feedback from every race.

“Perhaps his greatest asset is that he is a really good racer, just as he proved at the World Junior Championships.

“It will be good for him to swim in Poland and then the club are going off to Singapore for a training camp in January. That should be perfect in the build-up to the Olympic trials.”