Luke Greenbank On Going From Junior To Senior Waters, Coach Mel Marshall And Tokyo Positivity

Luke Greenbank at the Youth Olympic Games
Luke Greenbank: Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Fei Maohua

When Luke Greenbank set sail from the small market town of Cockermouth in north-west England to join Mel Marshall at City of Derby in 2016, a fine senior career beckoned following success on the global junior stage.

The 18-year-old had accumulated an array of silverware from world and European Junior Championships as well as double gold at the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, with a then world junior record of 1:56.89 over 200m backstroke.

There was unfamiliar disappointment for the teenager and a harsh lesson in the fine margins of sport when his maiden British senior title in 2016 was good enough for the top of the domestic podium but outside the cut for the Rio Olympics.

(140819) -- Nanjing,Aug 19,2014 (Xinhua) -- Luke Greenbank of Great Britain celebrates after Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay final of swimming event of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on Aug. 19, 2014. (Xinhua/Fei Maohua) (txt)

Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Fei Maohua

Weeks later Greenbank made his senior international debut at the European Championships in London, coming ninth in the 200.

Little did Greenbank or anyone around him know but he had already entered what would prove to be a turbulent time as he attempted to make that transition from junior to senior waters.

He followed Marshall to the National Centre Loughborough and trained in the same waters as Adam Peaty but that junior world record and PB would not be eclipsed until 2019.

He finished 13th in the 200 at the 2017 worlds in Budapest in 1:58.50 and fourth in both the 100 and 200 at the Commonwealth Games in Australia the following year, although there was a silver with Team England in the medley relay.

At the European Championships in Glasgow later in 2018, Greenbank didn’t reach any finals and neither was he selected for the GB medley relay squad that would go on to win gold.

It was a real low for the swimmer who had no intention of turning his back on the sport but felt powerless.

He told Swimming World:

“I never really believed I had reached my potential. The problem was I don’t think the training I was doing at that point of time was quite right. It just needed a little tweak.

“At the time it was quite stressful because I didn’t really know what was wrong and why I wasn’t performing as well as I could. I’ve always enjoyed swimming and training so it never really crossed my mind to quit even when I was going through that tough time.”

So too was Mel Marshall frustrated and she sought input from Sean Balmer, Greenbank’s former coach at Cockermouth, as well as collaborating with a team of physiologists and sports scientists.

There was just one request from Marshall of Greenbank – that he have faith in her as she set about devising a new programme.

So he did and in 2019 the rewards came at the British trials for the World Championships in the form of 1:55.89 and 53.92 over 200 and 100 respectively.

On to Gwangju, South Korea, and Greenbank was fifth at 150 but a final length of 29.54 propelled him to third and on to the podium in bronze position in 1:55.85.


Luke Greenbank and Adam Peaty – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

In the final race of the championships, Greenbank led off the British men’s 4x100m medley relay which would go on to win gold with a thunderous final leg from Duncan Scott.

A relief of course but one of great magnitude for Luke Greenbank who now had answers to the questions he had asked when those results had not been forthcoming.

Now he can look back at those difficult months and years and draw positives, even when he so narrowly missed out on Rio.

“That was my first year out of junior swimming and I think it was a little bit of a shock to the system but the kind of wake-up call I needed.

“I had a couple of tough years starting as a senior swimmer but I think I’ve learned off the back of that, grown as an athlete and I understand myself better.

“Looking back it was horrible at the time.”

He has nothing but praise for Marshall, saying:

“She has always been so positive, I have always got on really well with her. We’ve got a really good relationship where if I have a problem I can go to her and if she has a problem she can come to me. I think that helped.

“She is always willing to listen to advice which I think is really important in a coach. She doesn’t claim to be a god or know everything – she is always willing to learn. So that input from Sean I think was also a big influence. Obviously hats off to Mel for implementing that in the way she did.”

For her part, Mel Marshall recalls:

“It was hard. He spent four years not doing a PB. He really struggled with that.

“Once they have a breakthrough like that it’s about being able to consolidate and do it again two or three times and he spent four years just not doing a PB.

“He got a little PB on his 100 but God, that was a battle for me because there was pressure on me – she can only coach Adam Peaty – why is he not converting and all that sort of stuff and it was just a case of time. Also just trial and error and trying different things.”


Melanie Marshall – Photo Courtesy: Action Woman Twitter

She called to mind that moment at the Europeans at Tollcross, Glasgow, in 2018 when she had to tell him he would not be on the relay team.

“I made a promise to myself as a coach that if it was my fault I would stand up and I would accept it.

“I remember sitting on poolside with him in Glasgow down by the bottom end and I had to tell him he wasn’t going to be in the relay.

“I could just have said ‘oh you know it just hasn’t worked out’. But I took responsibility – I said to him: this is on me.

“’We have not got the physiology model right for you yet’ and I said ‘I need to go back and I need to redo it and I need to completely change the programme and have a look at it’.

“I spent that summer talking to some really great people. I said to him if I am going to take responsibility for this don’t lose faith in me because I won’t let you down.

“And he didn’t. At that point he could have quite easily not thrown in the towel but not gone after this new model.

“We went after it and it just got better and better and better and lo and behold he got the swim he deserved at the trials and then he converted it in the summer.

“And good on him because it’s so hard to go 12 months and get no progress – so hard – and especially in his event where it’s 65 a week and it’s gym as well and it’s all the energy systems.

“Good on him, I was so proud of him. I was crying again. I did cry a lot at worlds. I had never let myself think he might get a medal, I just made it all about him and him doing the best he could do.”

Luke Greenbank was third in the 2020 rankings for 200 with a time of 1:57.51 at the McCullagh International in Bangor, Northern Ireland, in February before sport came to a shuddering halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 22-year-old now has a five-metre pool in his back garden in Loughborough where he spends up to an hour and a half a day, at times doing 20-second, high-intensity sprints and maintaining the feel of the water.


Luke Greenbank joins the podium club of Evgeny Rylov, near right) and Ryan Murphy, left) – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

He hadn’t expected the Olympics to be postponed or for there to be lockdown in Britain but Greenbank has become well versed in finding the positives.

“I’m trying to not think about what I could have at the pool – I am just focusing on keeping my fitness up now. We are doing quite a lot of biking and a little bit of running to keep our aerobic fitness up and hopefully we’ll be back in towards the start of next season and we can get a bit of a head start on that going into the Olympics.

“For me I just take each day as it comes, I’m not thinking too far ahead and I also try to see the situation as a bit of a positive.

“The fact we’re having the Olympics a year later just gives me another year to prepare. I’m not letting it drag me down – I’m just looking at it as a positive.”

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