James Bartley has the 2022 Commonwealth Games in his sights after being crowned national swimming champion for the first time.
The Melton swimmer went into the English Summer Championships, in Sheffield, without a national medal on his CV, but ended a memorable meet with a gold and two silvers, together with some huge personal bests.
Bartley, who is based at Mount Kelly College, a nationally-renowned centre for young swimmers in Devon, headed to Sheffield after a decent meet at the British Championships just a few weeks earlier.
Having qualified for a best-ever seven events, in Glasgow he made his first British final and narrowly missed another couple.
His Mount Kelly team also made two relay finals, and in the 4x200m he broke two minutes for 200m freestyle for the first time.
“That was a big step for me,” he said. “I thought I could have done a little bit better in a few events, but overall I was quite happy with it.
“I thought I would get to the 400 IM final, but missed it by six-hundredths which is just a touch, or longer fingernails.
“I was swimming well, but didn’t know how well until the English and then I stepped up again.”
At Ponds Forge he was crowned English under 16s champion for 200m individual medley, and won silver at 100m butterfly and 400m freestyle to smash his expectations.
“Going in I was confident, I knew I was going to go well,” he added.
“My coaches were telling me, ‘you can have three out of three medals’.
“Personally I was aiming for as many finals and PBs as possible; I wasn’t really expecting any medals.”
A medal didn’t look on the cards in his opening event, the 100m butterfly, having qualified in last place and only making it through because of the withdrawal of another qualifier.
But when you’re in the groove, everything comes a little easier.
Hooking up precision timing and technique with sky-high confidence, he broke the one-minute barrier with 58.65secs for the first time to qualify second.
Bartley then went half-a-second quicker in the final to grab the silver.
“The first one I can’t even remember, I was so happy with it as I wasn’t expecting anything from it,” he explained.
“Mum was crying, it was just amazing to get that first medal.”
Buoyed by his first national medal, Bartley set a four-second PB in the 200 IM heats, clocking 2min 12.5secs, and again qualified second despite easing off.
Having left plenty on the tank for the final, he shaved another two seconds off that PB, clocking 2.10.58 to claim the national title.
“The second day I got the gold and that was the best feeling,” he said.
“I qualified ninth and came out with the gold.
“I remember in the race, thinking I’ve only got 25 metres to go and I could tell I was leading, so then it was ‘let’s just max it’.
“I touched the wall, saw my name at the top and didn’t stop smiling for ages.”
A day off back home in Melton did nothing to blunt his performance in the final event, the 400m freestyle
“In the heats I came off the pace in the last 200 metres to save myself for the final and then went and did a six-second PB in the final.
His time of 4.06 was good enough to clinch a clean sweep of three medals from three events.
It marked an impressive comeback from a broken foot in late spring, getting back in the pool just in time before the national qualifying window shut, all while juggling the academic pressures of GCSE exams.
Equally impressive was the variety of success, securing medals in three strokes all at different distances.
With a few weeks’ break looming, Bartley then capped a brilliant summer by finishing sixth in age group in the rough and tumble of the National Open Water Swimming Championships.
Ambitions may have to be scaled back next year when he moves into the 17 and 18 yeas age group, swimming most of that first year as a 16-year-old.
But beyond that the former Melton Mowbray Swimming Club star is targetting junior championships at European and World level in 2021, and a senior international breakthrough at the Commonwealths, in Birmingham, the following year.
“My coach said if I grow a bit she could see me going,” he added.
“She wants me to be one of the main GB team members at the World Juniors in two years.”
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