CRAIG BENSON is breathless.

The disciplined command he usually holds over his respiration has given way to fervent excitement, the sight of a Union flag hanging some way overhead seeming to increase the height of the podium inside the Olympic swimming venue. Wearily he raises a hand to salute the crowd, the other clasped firmly around the medal as he strives to anchor himself in the moment.

The image is a prevailing one. It could yet become reality. Benson has earned his place in the Great Britain swimming squad for the Olympics and the time between that announcement and the London Games has been understandably exhausting.

A rigorous training regime was interrupted by the European Junior Championships earlier this month, where the Scot finished third in the 100-metre breaststroke with a time of one minute 1.64 seconds. To offer some context, consider that winner Danila Artiomov of Moldova was only 0.04sec ahead.

The margins are minute and Benson can take succour from his time in Antwerp as he approaches the biggest race of his nascent career. That the 18-year-old has propelled himself towards his inaugural Games in only three years of competitive swimming is all the more striking given how unremarkable his arrival in the sport was. Routinely taken along to watch his older brother Andrew compete, the prepubescent Benson grew restless on the sidelines and resolved to get in the water himself.

"Things just progressed from the age of 13. In the last 12 months or so my swimming has really taken off and I'm starting to make my way into the senior ranks," said Benson, who is backed by Team RedSky.

The pool has felt like a natural habitat; his third place in Belgium following similarly auspicious swims at the last Commonwealth Games and, pertinently, in this year's British Championships, where he split British No.1 Daniel Sliwinski and compatriot Michael Jamieson to claim one of the two berths available in Team GB.

He will find himself among heady company in London; put simply, the teenager from Livingston is a small fish in an Olympic-classified pond. Team GB has excelled in swimming; Rebecca Adlington won two golds in the 2008 Olympics, while setting a world record in the 800m freestyle event, and Liam Tancock, the world champion 50m backstroke specialist, competing over 100m in London.

"It's weird as last year I would just be sitting, watching them on TV too scared to talk to them, but I'm on the team with them," said Benson. "It's all come so fast but it's great. The saying is 'one Team GB' so we are all in the same team and all on the same level. It's weird but it's amazing."

"I've never been so excited about anything in my life, ever," he added, youthful exuberance temporarily overriding a quiet maturity. "It's a home Games; I mean, I'm never going to experience anything else like it in my lifetime. I'm being thrown in literally at the deep end as I've never represented a senior GB team before. This is the biggest one possible at the Olympics, with swimming on the first day. I should be nervous but I'm actually not; I'm just excited."

It is something of a wonder that the teenager has the energy. Preparation for an event such as the Olympics is onerous for an athlete, but Benson's routine seems excessive when placed alongside that of, say, your typical Scottish footballer. He builds his week around 10 sessions in the pool, some of which require Benson to rise at 4.30am. Plunging into a deserted pool may have, at times, felt like something of a rude awakening but his regimen is enlivened by three separate visits to the gym to lift "pretty heavy weights". "I do some other conditioning," he added, in a manner which suggested that was considered a form of respite. "So, it must rack up to over 30 hours a week, maybe 35."

The obvious question to pose, then, is where that leaves time for a social life. It provokes an obvious answer. Benson is acutely aware that he is in a privileged position and as such he is committed to submerging himself in preparation.

"It has basically taken over," said the Scot. "I mean, I've just turned 18 and most people who do that are going out all the time. Obviously I can't do that and still be at the top of my game when it comes to training and racing. I can have as many pints as I want after the Games, but I need to get it done first.

"This could be my last Olympic Games. I'm still young, but I might get injured or not improve or something like that. So I'm treating this Games as though it is the Games I need to be at my best at. I want to try and get into the final, and once I'm in the final I want just to race. I'm aiming pretty high, but I guess you have to."

Benson will shortly be issued with his GB tracksuit, and will consider a medal a suitable furbelow to complete the look.

"I've been thinking about it a lot," he said, "picturing myself on the podium - it's just the ultimate dream, especially in front of a home crowd."

It may be enough to leave him breathless.

INTERVIEW Livingston 18-year-old Craig Benson could soon be living his dream, writes Chris Tait