SELECTED to swim under the Great Britain flag for the second time, 16-year-old Vale star Tazmin Pugh faced her stiffest test yet when she travelled to Texas, USA, to compete in the Austin leg of the Arena Pro Swim Grand Prix series.
Pugh, who had competed in Canada before Christmas, then headed back across the Atlantic the following week to Antwerp in Belgium to participate in the Flanders Cup.
Some of the top swimming talent from around the world was in action in the USA including a plethora of world record holders and Olympic gold medallists such as Missy Franklin (USA), Katie Ledecky (USA), Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden), Katinka Hosszu (Hungary), Ryan Lochte (USA) and Michael Phelps (USA) to name but a few, who would be fighting it out for $350,000 prize money over the series of seven legs, with $10,000 for the overall winners.
Entry was restricted to 600 elite swimmers including 70 members of the US national team and there was live television broadcast of the finals.
The primary aim of the British squad was to continue to practice their identified ‘process goals’ and not necessarily seek personal best times towards furthering their international experience.
There were no medal presentations and no age awards and, as head coach of both Pugh’s Ellesmere Titans team and the Great Britain squad, Alan Bircher stated: “As these two meets were the very first long course meets of the season for the Brits, it was always going to be challenging.”
Pugh’s first event was the 100m butterfly in which her entry time seeded her 31st out of a field of 140, but she did not make any of the four finals in this prestigious competition.
In the 200m backstroke Pugh, who also represents Worcester SC, managed to make it through to the C finals, finishing sixth (22nd overall and fifth 16/under).
In her last event, the 200m fly, Pugh excelled in making the B finals in which she finished fifth and 13th overall (fourth 16/under).
With a few more training sessions in the States under her belt, it was then time for Pugh to fly to Antwerp for the Flanders Cup in which she and her team-mates were joined by a further 22 of the GB squad from around the UK.
World record holders and Olympians James Guy, Liam Tancock and Fran Halsall led the British squad as part of their preparations towards the British Championships in April when qualification to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games could be earned.
In a number of events GB enjoyed a clean sweep of the top three placings and even more so the top two medal positions.
In her first event, the 50m fly, Pugh finished with a time of 28.81 to come third in the 16 and under category.
She was in action again in the 200m fly in which she qualified for the A finals in 2:17.91 and, although she could not scrape any more out of the finals, Pugh eventually finished fifth as she claimed top spot in the 16 and under group.
Pugh had saved possibly her best performance over the two weekends for her very last event, the 100m fly, when qualifying for the A finals as first reserve and then finding herself with a top eight finals place when Halsall withdrew.
She used her good fortune to the full as she beating her heats time by 1.5 seconds to clock 1:01.07 and climb to fifth place overall and top place once again among the 16 and under competitors.
Travelling long distances and competing in the same heats with many of the best swimmers has been an invaluable experience which should stand Pugh in good stead for the future.