Gifted Scottish swimmer Ross Murdoch picked up a brace of breaststroke golds at the Arena Grand Prix in Texas as he enjoyed a strong start to his biggest year yet.
The University of Stirling student won the 100m and 200m events, claiming the scalps of home hero BJ Johnson – ranked second over 200m in the USA – and Olympians Scott Weltz and Conor Dwyer over the latter distance.
Murdoch, 20, from Balfron, will take great confidence from his first competitive swims of 2014, in a year in which he hopes to qualify for his first Commonwealth Games.
“The Commonwealth Games is a massive year for Scotland and for me personally,” said Murdoch, who caught the eye at the 2013 British Championships when he edged out Michael Jamieson in the 100m breaststroke to qualify for his first World Championships, setting a Scottish record along the way.
“It would be my first Commonwealth Games and in effectively my own back garden. It is going to be something extra special. After all the racing experience last year, I kept on getting faster with every single race. Every time I raced the 100 metre breaststroke I managed a personal best. I have already set a personal best over the short course distance and raced long course in under the Commonwealth time so I feel in good shape.”
Murdoch, originally from West Dunbartonshire, spent his 20th birthday travelling to Austin for the swimming meet, but it was a job well done and he will now turn his attention to The Flanders Swimming Cup in Antwerp this weekend, following his selection for the Great Britain team.
Murdoch is one of 23 swimmers to be supported by Winning Students, Scotland’s national sports scholarships for student athletes. The scholarships are designed to help students combine their sport and studies to excellent effect, and for Murdoch, he is benefitting greatly from the scholarship’s flexible approach, taking a year out from his Sport and Exercise Science degree to fully focus on his swimming.
Murdoch manages a packed schedule, training morning and night six days a week, with around 22 hours spent in the pool and a further eight in the gym.
He added: “It’s certainly not a normal student life. I am usually in bed by nine though sometimes it’s earlier as I’m just too knackered to stay up. Sometimes, especially Monday mornings, I stand and look at the water and question what I’m doing getting into a swimming pool at this time, but then I remember it’s to compete at Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic Games.
“Winning Students has given me something you don’t normally get when you become an athlete. It’s really tough and the support is vital as I don’t know how I could fit in time to work too. I can get up in the morning, go swimming and then come back, rest up and go again.
“The flexibility is so important too. I’ve submitted essays whilst away at competitions and been able to defer work, but mostly I have been allowed to miss compulsory classes and received modules online. It’s meant I have been able to go to training camps and compete at major events. This year, even though I’m taking time out, I’m still supported by the scholarship.
“It looks really bright for this season. Texas gave me lots of experience competing against the best American swimmers then Belgium will test me against the best in Europe. After that, the focus is on being up against the best in Scotland to make the team for Glasgow.”
Olympian Rob Bale, who trains alongside Murdoch on campus at the National Swimming Academy, was also in action at Austin, racing in the Freestyle events.