Only the United States were more successful than Britain in the swimming pool at this year’s World Aquatics Championships – the first major global gathering of the new Olympic cycle for the sport.
Four golds were won in Budapest with seven podium finishes overall putting Britain ahead of traditional swimming heavyweights such as China, Russia and Australia.
As had been the case at the Olympics in Rio almost exactly a year ago, Adam Peaty led the way for the team, successfully defending his individual 50m and 100m breaststroke World titles, with two world records over the shorter distance thrown in for good measure too.
But with Ben Proud and James Guy also weighing in with individual podium successes as well as gold and silver medals for the 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay teams respectively, British Swimming head coach Bill Furniss was left to reflect on a strong first step on the journey to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“In year one, I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect coming off Rio,” he said.
“And I'm very happy. I knew we'd have areas we've got to work on but I'm very happy in terms of what we've got to work on for the next three years.
“Seven medals, second on the medal table. I don't think we've ever done that before.
“Does it mean we're the second best nation in the world? I don't think so.
“What it means is it's probably a really good launchpad for the next three years.”
British swimming has experienced a sharp turnaround in fortunes following the three medals won at London 2012, followed by Fran Halsall’s solitary 50m freestyle bronze at the World Championships in Barcelona 12 months later.
The 2015 Worlds produced nine British medals and then the swimming team celebrated its most successful Olympic Games since 1908 in Rio last summer.
In Budapest, the British team continued to accumulate medals, with Proud winning 50m butterfly gold and 50m freestyle bronze and Guy taking bronze in the 100m butterfly.
There were a number of near misses too, though, with Max Litchfield – twice –Duncan Scott and Ross Murdoch among those to finish fourth.
And then there was the fact the medals were also exclusively won by male swimmers with the female squad – missing double Olympic silver medallist Jazz Carlin through injury – made up of a large number of debutantes, with valuable experience gained the buzz words among the camp.
And Furniss is also aware if Britain wants to keep closing the gap on their rivals, they need to sharpen their intelligence in the water.
“The one thing that is obviously apparent now is you have to swim exactly the correct tactical race,” he said.
“You get it slightly wrong and you're out of it. I call it race craft.
“If you haven't got the right race craft, you aren't going to podium at this level. It's a huge thing for us.
‘We're doing a lot of work on it. I think our kids do race better, but we've got a lot more work to do.”
At least the younger swimmers on the team don’t need to look too far for guidance when it comes to executing the perfect race.
Olympic champion Peaty took his tally of major international titles won in just three years to 16 out in the Hungarian capital, and is now Britain’s most decorated athlete in the history of the World Aquatics Championships.
American Caeleb Dressel may have stolen the show in Budapest last week as he matched Michael Phelps’ record of seven golds at one World Championships but Furniss knows in Peaty, Britain has its own superstar capable of driving the sport forward and keeping the momentum rolling.
“He's great with the other swimmers. They look up to him. We're very lucky to have him,” he said.
“He's a gentleman, he's humble. At the same time he's a lion, he's a beast.
“It's that combination. I've never seen anybody as focused, as dedicated. Just every single day.
‘It's just unbelievable. His attitude is stunning. Everybody has a bad day at the office, but not Adam. It is tremendous.”
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