Every so often a swimmer comes along that has that look of being something special and at the weekend in the National Aquatic Centre Jack McMillan compounded the belief that he is that kind of talent.
Four years ago during a conversation regarding up and coming young swimmers at pool side, legendary coach Nelson Lindsay made it clear to “keep an eye on Jack McMillan because he’s a big talent” and so it has proved.
McMillan, who turns 21 next month, can now seriously start dreaming of standing on the blocks at the Tokyo Olympics after an outstanding display in Dublin.
As has been the case for some time now, Swim Ireland demand FINA A qualification times for those seeking to make it to the Olympic stage and the Bangor club member is on track. In the 400m freestyle final he rocketed from the blocks and set a new Irish record of 1:47.10 for the 200m freestyle on his way to silver behind former Lisburn swimmer Daniel Wiffen, who is now based at Loughborough University. That was just 24 hours after McMillan had won the 200m free in 1:47.19.
McMillan, who possesses a natural feel for the water, can now look ahead to the Olympic trials in April knowing he only has to shave eight hundredths off his time to book his place on the Irish Olympic team.
“I just gave it my best shot. Unfortunately, I was really close again, but it just sets me up well for next year in April time, for trials, for the real thing. It’s given me a real confidence boost,” said McMillan.
He then returned to the pool on Saturday to win the 100m freestyle in 49.55, edging out Bangor clubmate Jordan Sloan, 49.96.
It proved to be a very encouraging elite Irish Winter Meet for Ulster swimmers who will also have a long term eye on the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Ards coach Davy Johnston will have left the NAC particularly pleased with how his elite swimmers performed as Ellie McKibben, Rebecca Reid, Victoria Catterson and Amelia Kane sparkled.
McKibben, just 16, was involved in the race of the meet with Rebecca Reid in the 100m butterfly. At the turn Reid held the lead just two hundredths of a second and there was little between the two right to the finish with McKibben taking the touch in 1:03.49 just three hundredths of a second ahead of Reid.
“It was a fantastic race. I can’t remember watching a race that was so close from start to finish. Credit to both girls because they pushed each other to personal bests,” said coach Johnston.
“Ellie is really starting to mature as a swimmer. She is one of the most technically gifted swimmers I’ve worked with and she will be looking to try and make the team for the European juniors. We have a strong tradition at Ards for international swimmers and I just see it as my job to keep the big Ards wheel turning.”
Catterson, 20, won the 100m and 200m freestyle and Johnston believes she has a very bright future.
“Victoria is one of only a handful of Irish girls who have gone under two minutes for the 200m free and the others are Irish swimming legends such as Grainne Murphy, Sycerika McMahon and Melanie Nocher so that shows you the ability she has,” added Johnston, who also has high hopes for 17-year-old Amelia Kane – a winner in the 200m butterfly and 400m free.
“Amelia she is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached, she would run through a wall. As a coach I have to temper that mindset slightly but it is a great quality to have.”
Johnston’s son Paddy, who is bound for Cleveland on a scholarship, set a new Ulster record of 2:01.44, second behind Brendan Hyland, in the 200m butterfly, while Larne’s Danielle Hill won the 50m freestyle, holding off UCD’s Erin Riordan (25.96).