AIMEE WILLMOTT is targeting a Commonwealth Games gold medal after qualifying for this evening's 400m Individual Medley final with an accomplished performance on the opening morning of competition in Glasgow.
Middlesbrough's Willmott was the second-fastest qualifier from the two heats, finishing just over a second slower than Scotland's Hannah Miley, who claimed the Commonwealth title in Delhi in 2010.
A concerted push in the breaststroke leg enabled Willmott to power ahead of Australian Keryn McMaster in heat two, and she held off her closest rival in the final 100m of freestyle to touch the wall a length or so ahead.
Loading article content
Her time of 4:39.50 was slower than Miley's new Commonwealth Games record, which was set in heat one, but having purposefully conserved her energy in the closing stages, the Teessider is confident she can come out on top tonight.
"The final will be a race right to the end," said Willmott. "I'm sure it'll be really close between me and Hannah, but I wouldn't like to rule anyone else in the field out either. It'll be a really tough, challenging race, but I'm sure both of us will really enjoy it.
"Hopefully, I can pip Hannah to the wall and bring England the gold medal first. It would be really nice for me, and great for the rest of the team to really get the ball rolling.
"If I can win the gold it will be a big boost for the team, and I can't wait to get back in tonight now and see what I can do."
Tonight's final, which is scheduled for 7.07pm, will produce the first swimming gold medallist of the Games.
The organisers have specifcially arranged the programme to give Miley and Michael Jamieson the best chance of getting the Scottish team off to a winning start, but Willmott is more than happy to be cast as the one to spoil the party.
"I'm not fazed about being in the first event," she said. "The first swim of any meet can be a little bit challenging no matter where you are in the programme, so it was just about staying focused and swimming into it."
This morning's swim was a controlled affair, with Willmott effectively sealing her final spot in the middle section of the race before easing up considerably in the closing stages.
"I'm really happy with that," she said. The first race of a meet is normally a challenging one to get in and get one swim out of the way.
"I was pretty pleased with how that went, and felt quite comfortable coming down the last 100m. I just tried to really stretch it out and concentrate on keeping everything long and just swimming into the race.