THIS time last year, Ross Murdoch was seriously considering hanging up his goggles for good.

After a tough couple of years – the most testing of his career – the pandemic, and the subsequent postponement of the Olympic Games meant Murdoch had to assess whether he still had it in him to do what it takes to compete with the best swimmers in the world.

The early mornings, the pushing your body to its limit daily and the constant aches and pains mean that unless you are fully committed, there is just no point.

And Murdoch had the added pressure of knowing that if he failed to make the team for the Tokyo Olympics, British Swimming would pull his funding. 

Retiring from elite sport and venturing into the real world was a distinct possibility.

“Last year, a few weeks into lockdown, I was thinking can I really see myself hacking through this for another year? I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to,” he says. “I had an asterisk beside my name on the funding and that’s a tough place to be, it puts a little bit more pressure on you and I was thinking do I really want to be the guy who was hanging on or do I want to go out on my terms?”

But then, the International Swimming League, an international competition consisting of 10 teams packed with the world’s best swimmers, came calling.

Having something to aim for during the long, hard weeks of lockdown was enough to persuade Murdoch to stick at the only sport he confesses he has ever been good at.

That decision has now been vindicated.

Last week, Murdoch was named in Team GB for the Olympics for his second appearance on his sport’s biggest stage, having made his debut in Rio in 2016. 

This Games will, though, be all the sweeter for the breast-stroker, having gained selection in his favoured event of the 200m, something he failed to do five years ago having only been selected for the 100m in Rio.

“I had a couple of tough years in 2015, 2016 trying to make the team in the 200m and that’s where I expected to have more success,” he says.

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“I feel like it was five years for redemption in this event and it’s good to have made it this time by as much as I missed it last time.”

Almost seven years may have passed, but Murdoch’s most notable achievement remains his Commonwealth Games gold-medal swim in Glasgow.

A relative unknown outside the world of swimming in 2014, Murdoch famously beat race-favourite Michael Jamieson on the opening day of the Games and he admits that despite becoming European champion and representing GB on every major stage in the intervening years, that Commonwealth gold remains the pinnacle of his career.

“Even if I was to win a gold medal this summer, I’m not sure it would top 2014 because back then, the stars aligned and it was the perfect day so I think it will be really hard to top that,” he says. 

“I don’t know if that’s a positive or a negative thing for my swimming career but I think it’s the moment I’ll look back on and think that’s the most special thing in my swimming career.

“But in terms of making my second Olympics, there’s a lot that has gone into this one. I’d say it’s definitely top three if I had to rank them.

“To be considered a double Olympian, I’m dead chuffed.”

With the Olympics now less than three months away, the coming weeks are a matter of fine tuning rather than looking for major improvements. Murdoch’ s next outing will be at the European Championships in Budapest in just over a week and having had such a dearth of top-class racing over the past year due to the effects of the pandemic on the sporting calendar, it will be vital competition to help ensure he is at his best come the summer.

“The Europeans will be a good chance to move things on and tune up,” he says. “The tactics of the race are always changing and it’ll be a great opportunity to feel it first hand. Racing these top guys now will help me stay calm later. I’ll know what it feels like to be behind and see them or maybe I’ll be in front. 

“It’s about trying to take all these little learnings and trying to build on them.”

The 200m breaststroke has moved on considerably in recent years in terms of times, but Murdoch’s personal best remains the 2 minutes 7.3 seconds he swam at Glasgow 2014. To get his hands on silverware in Tokyo, Murdoch will almost certainly have to go faster.

His immediate goal, then, is to reach the Olympic final but with experience on his side, he knows anything can happen in those two minutes.

“To make a final at the Olympic Games in this event now would be a seriously special feat and if I do that, I’d be delighted,” he says.  “But you only have to look at Rio when the guy who won it was in lane 8 so there’s no reason why if I qualified in lane 8 I couldn’t get in amongst it.”

And when he stands on the block in Tokyo, he knows he will be up for the fight, whoever he is racing.

“It doesn’t matter who’s next to you, I look left and right and am like come on then, let’s have a square go,” he says. “Let’s have a square go right now, that’s how it is.”