Meet Abbie Wood - Buxton's 'Best British swimmer that you've never heard of'

"I like that title," says Abbie Wood. "Make sure to use that in your article," writes Tom Harle.

By Community Sports Reporter
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 1:47 pm
Abbie Wood impresed in the Women's 200m Individual Medley Final at the Manchester International Swimming Meet 2021. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Abbie Wood impresed in the Women's 200m Individual Medley Final at the Manchester International Swimming Meet 2021. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

What would a Tokyo Olympic hopeful want to be called? One to watch, perhaps. Rising star. Maybe even medal prospect.

But not Buxton’s Abbie Wood She wants to be called 'the best British swimmer you've never heard of' - while she still can.

The 22-year-old's performances at last month's Manchester International - marking Adam Peaty et al's return to long-course racing - suggest that title's days are numbered.

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Wood won a stack of international medals as a junior, including European gold in 2015.

But when she moved into the senior ranks aged 17, she struggled and three years later, her personal bests were no better.

That culminated in a miserable debut at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, where she finished 20th in the 400m medley heats and nearly quit the sport.

"Going to a Worlds at the age of 18 should have felt like a great achievement, but it didn't," said Wood, who turned to coach Dave Hemmings for an intervention.

"I was expecting it to be the same as being a junior and it's a completely different world. It happens to most athletes but when you've been a successful junior, it feels like a disaster.

"Why would I want to carry on with something that made me this upset and this embarrassed?

"Dave used the example of Duncan Scott. He said: 'Duncan was like this in 2015, and now he's one of the best in the world.' It helped me put things into perspective."

Fast forward four years and Wood is shedding seconds, clocking 2:09.38 in Manchester to crash through her 200m individual medley personal best by a full two seconds.

She pushed Molly Renshaw, who came through at the same Derbyshire club, to a 200m breaststroke national record and lowered her own personal mark in the process, before beating Freya Anderson at the touch in the 200m freestyle.

"I wouldn't have gone these times last year, I'm going two or three seconds quicker than 2020," she said.

"I just stuck at it through lockdown, did my own workouts and tried to see it as a blessing.

"It's all coming together and it's like a tidal wave. Everything is happening at once."

Wood plans to swim the 200m medley, breaststroke and freestyle at April's Olympic Trials, and has more than half an eye on a place on the 4x200m team too.

Breaststroke has always been her favourite, but all medley swimmers feel they have an achilles heel and her's is backstroke, a multitude of sins hidden by the need to swim a single length.

With Peaty and Scott to the fore, the strength of the British men's squad is no secret but Wood will be at the heart of a grandstand battle for selection on the women's side.