By Sam Watson
LAST month, local swimming superstar Bowen Gough missed out on a trip to Tokyo by less than half a second.
The 23-year-old from Bass competed in the 200-metre butterfly event at the South Australia Aquatic and Leisure Centre in Adelaide.
To get to Adelaide, Gough, who swims with the Nunawading Swimming Club, had to swim 200 metres under two minutes and eight seconds, which he did comfortably.
Then at the trials he had to finish in the top eight in the preliminary event to reach the final.
He well and truly made the cut, finishing in the top two with Nunawading teammate Matthew Temple.
In the final, Gough had to swim under one minute and 56 seconds and finish in the top two to book his trip to Tokyo.
The Olympic qualifying time of one minute and 56 seconds is determined by the eight fastest times in the world the year before.
Gough made that time, but he was pipped for second place by David Morgan who finished the race only 48 milliseconds faster than Gough.
The brutal result meant Morgan would head to the Olympics with Temple.
Being the third fastest swimmer for his event in the country is a fantastic effort by Gough but it was a tough pill to swallow.
“The first few days after the meet were rough,” Gough said.
“Seeing the team get announced is tough, because there’s people who they take in other events who didn’t get the qualifying time.”
“So, watching people who didn’t get the qualifying time make the team is tough but I’m pretty good now.”
“Watching the Olympics will be tough but then again I love watching all that kind of stuff.”
Gough and other Victorian swimmers almost missed out on the opportunity to reach trials.
About a month before the trials, a new coronavirus case in Victoria emerged, and straight away they received a phone call from Swimming Australia.
“They said you have to get out of Victoria now or there’s a chance you can’t swim at the trials.”
So, they were sent up to the Gold Coast for four weeks of preparation before the Adelaide meet.
But Gough said the interrupted lead-up wasn’t too much of a hindrance to his overall performance.
“We were pretty well accommodated, we got plenty of training times and other help,” Gough said.
But the most difficult hurdle was the pace in which it happened.
“We heard on a Wednesday morning, before we started training, there’s a chance we might have to leave soon.”
“Then by the time that session finished at 9am we were told we were flying out at 2pm that afternoon, so pack your bags for four weeks.”
“Once we were there it was fine but the shock of having to leave for a month at very short notice was tough.”
Gough agreed the Victorian lockdowns of 2020 would’ve been a disadvantage to most of his peers, but it was almost a positive for his Olympic chances.
“In terms of me personally, the extra year with the Olympics being postponed probably helped,” Gough said.
“Once we were back in the water, we didn’t really have to get out after that initial big break, which a lot of us don’t really get in swimming which was good.”
“The extra year helped me, I think I would’ve not gotten the time had trials been last year.”
One major positive Gough can take out of the trials is that he performed well under pressure, as his finals time of 1:55.88 was a personal best.
He also competed in the 100-metre butterfly, and a personal best in that event saw him finish fourth and not far from the qualifying time.
“It’s a weird feeling because it was such a successful meet, I had two massive PBs and the time is a really good time,” Gough said.
“The time is pretty competitive by world standards, it would’ve got me into the final at the last world championships.”
“It’s bittersweet because it was such a good performance but ultimately, I didn’t achieve what I wanted to.”
And apart from having to move interstate in less than six hours, Gough said there’s not much he would’ve changed about his preparation for the biggest swim of his life.
“The last year and a bit I’ve dedicated practically every part of my life towards my goal and there’s not a whole heap more I could’ve done.”
But he said he’s still got plenty of room to improve.
“I already know what I can fix to go even quicker, I have improvements to come on my skills part of the races,” Gough said.
“I’m terrible at starts and turns and they take up huge portions of my time, so I can definitely get better there.”
He’ll be hoping to put his improvements into action at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“I’m just going to go full bore again to try and make the Commonwealth Games.”
“There’s a better chance of me making that as well, they take the top three for my event and the qualifying time is a little bit easier.”
“I’m a mile under that so I’ve just got to try and replicate my Olympics trials performance at the Comm Games trials.”
Gough, who’s doing a Bachelor of Business and Sport Management at Deakin University, said the support he’s had from people back home has been amazing.
“I tried to turn my phone off a few days before the competition because I knew I’d get a lot of messages saying “good luck”, I didn’t want to spend too long looking after my phone.”
“After the race you’re obviously incredibly upset, and when you’ve done a sport for this long it’s what a lot of people know you for, so you feel like you might’ve let a few people down.”
“But a lot of people made it really clear that they were really proud so that was really comforting.”
No one has given Gough more support than his parents, Owen and Michelle.
“I used to train at Wonthaggi for South Gippsland Bass Swimming Club, and I had great coaches there in Ivan Moore and Dylan Muir.”
“But if my parents hadn’t allowed me the opportunity to travel to Melbourne, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
But Gough said that anything’s possible for any young local swimmers.
“I came from Bass, there’s not a huge population, there’s not a whole lot of pools so if you dedicate yourself to it you’ve got a chance,” Gough said.
“It’s obviously taken a long time and a lot of effort to get this far and I’m right on the door now, so it’s possible if you dedicate yourself to it because there’s nothing stopping you down here.”
And he said the proposed upgrades for the Wonthaggi pool would be awesome.
“There’s a lot of talented kids down here, Nathan Foote from Phillip Island was also at the Olympic trials and swam really well there,” Gough said.
“Access to better facilities is only going to help the younger generation keep carrying on.”