European Championships: James Wilby Wins 200 Breaststroke Gold To Banish Tokyo Hurt; Matti Mattsson Becomes First Finnish Man On Podium Since 1931

James Wilby World Trials
James Wilby: Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr, British Swimming

European Championships: James Wilby Wins 200 Breaststroke Gold To Banish Tokyo Hurt; Matti Mattsson Becomes First Finnish Man On Podium Since 1931

James Wilby won the 200 breaststroke from lane eight as he continued to banish the spectre of Tokyo 2020 at the European Championships in Rome.

The 28-year-old was fourth at halfway with all the action taking place in the centre lanes but he moved through the field to take the win in 2:08.96.

Wilby splits: 29.26/1:02.16 (32.90)/1:35.33 (33.17)/2:08.96 (33.63)

Olympic bronze medallist Matti Mattsson became the first Finnish man to win a medal since Toivo Reingoldt topped the podium in 1931 when he touched for silver in 2:09.40 with Luca Pizzini third in 2:09.97.

His joy was in stark contrast to the despair he felt 12 months ago after the Tokyo Olympics.

Sixth in the 200br was followed by silver after swimming the heats of the 4×100 medley relay as the British quartet finished second behind the United States.

Wilby, though, didn’t swim the prelims of the mixed medley relay which went on to get gold with every member of the quartet being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours, so too the winning 4×200 free squad.

It hit the 28-year-old who said:

“It took about three months for me to actually get that medal that I won at the Games out of its bag that it was in.

“It took a number of months to actually sit down and look at it and be like – it wasn’t me on the podium but it was me who contributed towards that medal win.

“It was a challenge – it really was. But I look back on that now and be like that’s a learning experience for life, let alone just my swimming career so I am really proud of myself going through that.”

James Wilby

James Wilby: Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Wilby, who is coached by Dave Hemmings at the Loughborough National Training Centre, struggled in Tokyo, something that continued on his return to Britain.

He said:

“It was a two-year struggle internally, not vocalising that, sharing that and seeking out the help I needed for that and it all culminated at the Olympic Games.

“Then a couple months after (the Games) were really quite rough and it was a real case of reaching out and getting the support I needed.

“Then also reassessing the way I approach the sport.

“I am keenly aware of how old I’m becoming in terms of the rest of the team but it has been done before where older people are successful at major internationals.

“Coming into this year it was a case of having that reset until the December and getting back in in the January with a new approach, continual support, external support and just really focusing on that enjoyment.

“It became less about pressuring myself and overthinking things – very much just a case of this is what I’ve achieved, being proud of what I’ve achieved as well.”

Wilby has had the sort of campaign he wouldn’t even have dared dream of 12 months ago.

He won bronze as part of the British men’s medley relay at the World Championships in Budapest before claiming gold in the 100 breaststroke at the Commonwealth Games, in the race in which Adam Peaty came fourth.

There was a second gold with Team England in the men’s medley relay plus silver in the 200br behind Olympic champion and world record-holder Zac Stubblety-Cook as well as bronze in the mixed medley relay.

On to the Eternal City and before his gold on Sunday, Wilby had won bronze with the 4×100 mixed medley.

The contrast between Rome and Tokyo 2020 was like night and day for Wilby who said:

“It’s been a year where my approach has been very different.

“It’s been a lot more enjoyment-focused, just making sure I’m really happy doing the sport.

“This is our third major international and I honestly try not to think about that much or mention it here and over the past week or so because I don’t want to think how tired I potentially am.

“At the end of the day I am really happy. I’m really enjoying myself, I loved that race, I’ve loved these races I’ve done these past few days so the performances are coming when I’m in that state.

“That means everything to me.”

Of being in lane eight, he said:

“I said to myself straight after the semi-final – ah, why do I keep doing this to myself.

“Sometimes I cut it just a bit too fine.

“But I knew it was just going to be a case of racing my own race, sticking to the process and that was going to deliver a good result.

“It’s kind of an advantage in as much as they couldn’t see what I was up to and be aware of what I was doing but then a disadvantage in the fact I had no idea what they were doing.

“It was a real wrestle down that last length, that last 25 but I executed my process just as I wanted to.

“Again, same as it’s been a couple of times this year – it’s not about the time, it’s about getting in and racing and came away with the gold and so happy with that.”

Results

  1. James Wilby (GBR); 2:08.96
  2. Matti Mattsson (FIN); 2:09.40
  3. Luca Pizzini (ITA); 2:09.97
  4. Dawid Wiekiera (POL); 2:10.27
  5. Andrius Sidlauskus (LTU); 2:10.45
  6. Anton McKee (ISL); 2:10.96
  7. Antoine Viquerat (FRA); 2:11.14
  8. Matej Zabojnik (CZE); 2:12.27
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