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Short Course Championships are perfect opportunity for spot-check on progress

With his new bachelor pad just a sprint's length away from Edinburgh's Royal Commonwealth Pool, Craig Benson admits there are no longer valid excuses available for arriving late to train,.

Edinburgh event will allow Craig Benson and his prospective Scotland team-mates to measure their form ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games trials
Edinburgh event will allow Craig Benson and his prospective Scotland team-mates to measure their form ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games trials

Such proximity, he jests, will truly come into its own this weekend when he competes at the British Gas Short Course Championships, which begin this morning. "I can swim in the heats and then pop back to the flat," the 20-year-old declares. "That's good for my recovery time. I can come back and watch all the daytime TV rubbish."

With both breaststroke and medley titles in his sights, it is forgivable that the London Olympian seizes every opportunity for repose. However, there has been little slacking since he returned to training three months ago, fresh from the disappointment of watching the World Championships on television rather than up close.

An inquest was undertaken by British Swimming after consecutive summers of collective underachievement. A tougher, no-compromise regime will be implemented on the road to Rio 2016 by Bill Furness, the head coach. "You can tell it's happened," Benson acknowledges. "The team that's out at the European Short Course now is a lot smaller than in previous years. There are a lot of people who were on the team last year who are not there now."

Challenged to venture beyond his comfort zone, the Livingston swimmer has pushed himself as never before. It has meant extra hours in the gym in an attempt to become stronger and more potent. Each time, Benson reveals, personal challenges have been set. "It's easy to do a personal best there every week," he claims, "Whereas I'll not do a PB in the pool in training. And I've made some huge gains."

The proof will come from his results, perhaps not at first look but by the time next summer rolls around to the Commonwealth Games. The real technical graft will begin after Christmas when the bulk of Scotland's prospective squad heads to Spain for a training camp, just four months before they must survive the trials for Glasgow.

The team-building has already commenced with regular gatherings in Stirling. These championships, held over three days, will be a useful barometer for the likes of Robbie Renwick and Caitlin McClatchey as they press the reset button for 2014.

Benson will assess a few of his tweaks. "It's the first big competition where I get to practise my race strategy and race preparation for the Commonwealth trials. So it's about making sure I'm ready for that." Others, he knows, will want to lay down an early marker. "So we'll see. The competition will be pretty tough and I can't control what times others will do. As long as I've used it as preparation for the trials, when I want to be at my best, that will be fine."

McClatchey won double gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and, at 28, is one of the senior competitors. At the other end of the age scale, Charlotte McKenzie and Duncan Scott are two school pupils aiming for places in the 2014 team. This year's highlights for the 16-year-old Scott include gold in the 200m individual medley at the European Youth Olympic Festival and a British junior record in the 50m freestyle.

The line-up also includes Ross Murdoch, who made his Team GB debut in the summer's World Championships, but Hannah Miley, Craig McNally and the Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson are all competing for Team GB at the European Short Course Championships in Herning, Denmark.

Last night, Miley and McNally narrowly missed out on places in the finals, Miley finishing 11th in the 200m individual medley heats, failing to qualify by less than a second, and 12th in the 200m butterfly. McNally was 14th quickest in the 200m backstroke qualifiers in 1min 55.01secs, just 0.68 off a spot in the final.

Jamieson, however, showed no sign of his recent heart scare as he booked his place in the final of the 100m breaststroke. The Glaswegian eased through the morning heats in 58.26sec, then raised his game in the semi-finals, clocking the fifth-best time of 57.89 to reach tonight's final. Jamieson's arch rival, Hungarian Daniel Gyurta, led the qualifiers in 57.56.

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