AIMEE WILLMOTT admitted to mixed emotions as she claimed the biggest success of her swimming career by claiming a silver medal on the opening day of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Middlesbrough’s Willmott won her first major long-course medal as she finished second behind Hannah Miley in the final of the 400m Individual Medley, breaking her previous personal best by more than half-a-second.
However, there was a temptation to wonder what might have been after the 21-year-old led for almost half the race, only to be overhauled by home favourite Miley in the final 60m.
Having targeted a gold medal at the outset of the Games, Willmott was clearly disappointed as she reflected on her failure to hold on as Miley’s superior freestyle ability ultimately told.
But with three individual disciplines still to come in Glasgow and future thoughts firmly trained on the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Teessider was justifiably proud of her performance, which resulted in a lifetime-best time of 4:33.01.
“I’m obviously a little bit gutted not to come away with the gold,” said Willmott. “But I’m happy with getting a personal best time. I would like to have snuck under 4.32, but to miss out by one hundredth is nothing really.
“It’s just kind of hard when you see yourself doing so well and coming away with that (gold) medal, and then in the last length you find yourself being overtaken.
“But that’s the closest I’ve been to Hannah at a major competition and I can only take the positives from that. I’m happy to go away with my first long-course senior medal, and for it to be silver so close to home, it’s pretty special.”
Having claimed the lead shortly before the halfway stage of the final, Willmott maintained a lead of almost a second with a strong breaststroke leg.
Miley was back on terms within 40m of the freestyle though, and the final length saw the Scottish swimmer pull comfortably clear as Willmott in turn finished more than three seconds ahead of Australian Keryn McMaster, who won bronze.
“I knew that Hannah would dig in and try to stay with me, knowing I was stronger in the first bit of the race than she was,” said Willmott, who will return to the pool as part of the 4x200m freestyle relay squad tomorrow morning. “I think the race really started with the freestyle because normally there’s a bit of a bigger gap and Hannah comes from so far behind.
“I’d normally be a lot more fatigued, so to have stayed ahead for 100m more than I did at the Olympics is a bonus for me. If I can keep working on things then hopefully I can string a really strong 400m and be stronger down that last 100m than the rest of the competitors.”
With Ross Murdoch also claiming a gold medal as part of a Scottish one-two in the 200m breaststroke, it proved to be a hugely successful evening for the hosts, with the mood in Tollcross International Swimming Centre becoming increasingly euphoric as the night wore on.
It was always going to be difficult for Willmott to silence the home support, but the North-Easterner did not feel unduly handicapped by swimming in Miley’s home water.
“I knew that the crowd was going to be strong for Hannah, but there was a lot of cheering for me and Danielle (Lowe) when we walked out too,” she said. “That was something that really brought all the memories back from London.
“It was really special. I’m delighted with the silver medal, and I wouldn’t take anything away from Hannah. It’s good for both of us that we finished in the top two.”
Miley’s victory was a repeat of the result from the 2010 Commonwealths in Delhi, and was testament to the 24-year-old’s strength of character as she successfully dealt with the pressure of being one of the host nation’s strongest prospects for a first-day gold.
“It was a great race between me and Aimee,” she said. “I had to dig deep and we pushed each other on to good times. It was fantastic to set a personal best here. The crowd was pretty cool. When I walked out I had my headphones on, but it was hard to stay in that bubble and drown out the crowd.”
Hartlepool’s Jemma Lowe swims for Wales in the Commonwealths, and will be looking to at least emulate the bronze medal she won in 2010 when she competes in the final of the 100m butterfly tomorrow.
Lowe was fifth fastest in tonight’s semi-finals, and with England’s Siobhan O’Connor having finished almost a second quicker than her, the 24-year-old accepts she will have to improve if she is to claim a medal for the second Games in succession.
“It wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be,” said Lowe. “But I’ve got another chance in the final, so that’s good. Hopefully, I’ll step it up and we’ll see what happens.
“I think it’s going to be quite a high-class competition. I train with Siobhan and she’s always really speedy in training. She’s got a lot of talent and power, and I’m sure she has a bright future ahead of her.”