PERSHORE swimming sensation Tazmin Pugh has revealed her joy at winning 200m backstroke gold at the European Junior Championships in Hungary.
The 16-year-old star, who used to swim for Pershore SC and now represents Ellesmere College Titans, clocked a personal best of 2:11.12 to win the final in superb fashion in Hódmezővásárhely.
It was a textbook performance in both the final and qualifying from Pugh, who earned her place at the event for 14 to 17-year-old girls and 15 to 18-year-old boys thanks to her performances at the Great Britain Olympic and Junior Trials in April.
There was further medal glory to come her way later in the championships as she helped the Great Britain girls’ 4x200m freestyle relay team to silver.
An elated Pugh told the Observer: “I feel so happy and surprised as going into the event I wasn’t expecting to win because of where I was ranked.
“However, I kept an open mind and after the heats I then knew it was possible and how much I wanted to win.
“Winning has shown me that maybe I can swim backstroke better than I thought I could!
“The whole experience was amazing. The whole team were so close and supportive and the adrenaline I got from the crowd was insane.”
Pugh was in action from day one in the 200m backstroke against 40 of the elite juniors from 40 European countries.
She used her experience from having competed in seven previous internationals and her own race plans pre-determined with her GB and club coach Alan Bircher to make sure she made it through the heats into the semis.
Pugh set a blistering pace throughout, winning comfortably by five metres in a new two-second personal best of 2:11.82 to progress into the evening’s semi-finals as the fastest swimmer.
In the semis Pugh swam more cannily, knowing a top three placing should secure a place in the finals, and only extended herself in the last 25m as she touched first in 2:12.14 and again qualified for the finals in first place, securing the top lane four.
In the final the following evening the plan was to allow others to race off, which the field duly did, with Pugh turning seventh after length one.
Length two saw Pugh slowly reel in the leaders, with Russian Polina Egorova two seconds ahead. Towards the end of length three, Pugh made a concerted effort with some superb underwater work at the turn and with 30m to go she was alongside the Russian and Moldovan Tatiana Salcutan.
Pugh raced past the pair of them to finish a clear half second ahead on 2:11.12 (PB) and be crowned European 200m junior backstroke champion, realising a dream she has had for the last 12 months since changing from concentrating on butterfly to backstroke.
There was little time to celebrate though as, on the third day, she was in action in her less favoured 50m backstroke.
She qualified for the semis in 11th place in 29.40 and improved in those to 29.10 to qualify sixth fastest for the final, in which she eventually finished a pleasing eighth, with less than one second separating her from first.
Pugh was also selected to make up the fourth GB member to compete in the 100m fly event in which she still figures among the very best in the UK.
Only two swimmers from each nation were allowed to progress through to the semis so, even though she finished with 1:01.35, two higher placed GB swimmers were the ones to go forward and they eventually finished third and fifth in the final.
On day four Pugh was in action in the 100m backstroke and the heats saw her touch in a new PB of 1:02.13 to qualify third fastest for the semi-finals, from where she progressed fifth fastest to the final to take place on the final day.
On day five Pugh swam superbly in the final of the 100m backstroke, lowering her PB further still to 1:02.07. With a fingertip finish, she was placed fifth, with just 0.03secs separating her from the bronze medal.
Her work remained unfinished, however, as Team GB, after qualifying for the 4x200m freestyle relay final in a time of 8:11.82 as fifth fastest, needed to inject some pace alongside Pugh’s Titans team-mate Freya Anderson, 15.
Pugh rose to the challenge and set a new PB split time of 2:01.86 on the third leg as the lead switched between Russia and Hungary throughout.
It was left to GB’s stalwart anchor Holly Hibbott to swim a sub-two-minute leg to secure silver with a team time of 8:03.45, some 0.78secs behind hosts Hungary and 0.20secs ahead of third placed Russia.
Team GB closed the championships with 19 medals – made up of five gold, four silver and ten bronze – to sit third in the medal table behind winners Russia and second placed Italy who amassed 22 medals apiece.
With the Titans pair of Pugh and Anderson winning two individual golds, two silvers and two bronzes, it was not only a hugely successful trip for them, but all 26 members of Team GB as one of the best European Junior Championships for Britain on record.