Mel Marshall Excited About Working With “Starlet” Anna Hopkin After Turbulent Few Weeks

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Anna Hopkin: Photo Courtesy: Arkansas Athletics

Cast your mind back two months to a time when Tokyo 2020 was looming large on the horizon and the Olympic trials with their highs, lows and everything in-between were just a few short weeks away for many across the world.

Mel Marshall had taken her Loughborough group to the McCullagh International in Bangor, Northern Ireland, where the schedule mirrored Tokyo allowing the likes of Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty and world 200m backstroke bronze medallist Luke Greenbank to practise morning finals.

At the same time over in the United States, British sprinter Anna Hopkin had split the fastest 50 yards in relay history in 20.27, representing Arkansas Razorbacks at the 2020 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

Peaty then went on to go 58.13 at the Edinburgh International – a time only he has bettered in history – while Hopkin looked forward to the NCAAs in Athens, Georgia, from 18-21 March.

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Photo Courtesy: Arkansas Athletics

With a top-three ranking over 50, 100 and 200 free, Hopkin was well-placed to become the first swimmer from the University of Arkansas to win a national championship for the Razorbacks.

It all looked good, the stepping stones to the ultimate prize in Tokyo in July being safely negotiated.

That all changed in 12 days in March, however, as the coronavirus pandemic continued its deathly march across the world.

On 12 March the NCAAs were cancelled. Five days later the British trials went the same way. And on 24 March, the Olympics were postponed for the first time in history as Tokyo 2020 was pushed back a year.

On 14 March Hopkin boarded a plane home to Britain and headed to Loughborough where Marshall’s group train at the national centre.

There she did a time trial – stopping the clock at 53.3 unrested for the 100 free – alone in a pool in the English midlands rather than at the University of Georgia for the NCAAs.

Hopkin had been set to join Marshall once her college days were over but it marked the conclusion of a turbulent few days which saw her Masters course and US swimming career come to an abrupt end and a dash back home.

Marshall told Swimming World:

“In the space of a week she found out her university days in America were all going to come to an end without that finishing swim she had been working so hard for, she’d lost the British trials, she’d not got to say goodbye or graduate with all her friends she spent two years with, she had to pack up her room in the space of six hours.

“She flew on a plane, arrived home, then two days later was going 53.3 in a stand-up on her own in the middle of Loughborough, electronic timing.

“So – exciting for her.”

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Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Hopkin’s parents live in Leek, a town in Staffordshire roughly 80km from Loughborough to where she is due to move in June.

Hopkin will be 24 on 26 April but does not arrive at Loughborough with years of international experience as junior or senior.

In fact, she had stopped competing when she was 13 only to return to the water four years later and developing under Mark Skimming at the University of Bath.

Fellow Briton Neil Harper, head coach of Arkansas Swimming and Diving, contacted Hopkin about moving to the USA to do a master’s degree which would give her two years of collegiate competition.

After visiting the States and meeting Harper and his support staff, Hopkin knew the move was right for her.

And so it has proven.

Hopkin made her international debut at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as part of Team England where she won bronze in the 4x100m free relay as well as finishing seventh and eighth in the 50 and 100m respectively.

Later that year she was fourth with the British 4×1 relay at the European Championships in Glasgow.

Come July 2019 and the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

First up was the 100m free and Hopkin qualified third from the heats in 53.21, a PB and a time good enough for second in the British all-time rankings, behind only Fran Halsall and the 52.87 that propelled her to worlds silver in 2009.

It was also a British textile record.

Hopkin finished 13th over two lengths with the 50 to come where she qualified for the final in 24.34 to again go second behind Halsall and that 23.96 from 2014 before coming seventh in the splash and dash.

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Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Marshall paid tribute to Harper’s effect on Hopkin, a swimmer she is excited to work with.

“Neil’s brilliant, he has been absolutely ace. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Anna on the British team when she’s gone to world champs and all that sort of stuff so I have been very keen to see what she was going to do post her two years in the States.

“She was keen to move to Loughborough so that’s a really nice recruit and I’m really privileged to work with her.

“She’s an incredible athlete, a brilliant attitude, I think Neil has done an amazing job with her so it’s my job now to try and keep up with what they’ve done.

“She took that opportunity and Neil has just made her into a starlet really.”

Swimming World’s Andy Ross conducted an extensive interview with Hopkin.

How Moving To The United States Improved Anna Hopkin’s Swimming Career