1st September 2014 back to news

Rising Star: Craig's Blog

Rising Star: Craig Benson's Blog


My Commonwealth experience began when I first stepped into the village and saw where I would be staying for the next two weeks, Scotland Street. There were Scotland flags hanging from one side of the flats to the other and at that moment I felt so patriotic and excited to compete for my country. We didn't have long to hang around before heading to our first training session at the newly completed Tollcross swimming venue.


Arriving at the pool, we were welcomed by applause from the volunteers who were all lined up at the entrance. This was my first taster of the amazing home support that was due to come. The whole team walked on poolside together and the pool was spectacular. I distanced myself from the group and sat up at the top of the stands and just soaked everything in. I imagined how I would feel walking out for my race and pictured how I wanted my performances to go.


The next couple of days consisted of fine tuning elements in the pool and ensuring that I was race ready. Outside of the pool I was resting as much as possible, stretching and relaxing my muscles through massage and use of ice baths. The ice baths were set at a very chilly ten degrees celsius and the protocol was ten minutes. This was the less enjoyable part of my race preparation phase but one that was vital for peak performance.


My event, the 100m breaststroke, was due to start on day two of the competition. Due to the fact that so many swimmers on our team were competing on the first morning, we collectively came to the decision to miss the opening ceremony parade in order to rest for the competition. This was obviously a tough decision to make but with the start that team Scotland had on the first day shows that it was definitely the right one.

On the first evening, the evening before my race, I was advised to stay in the village and relax before my upcoming race. I decided however that I wanted to go to the pool, support the team and be inspired by some of the bigger swims for our team which were on that night. With Hannah Miley, Michael Jamieson and Ross Murdoch all having a great chance of becoming Commonwealth Champion it was not something that I wanted to miss. Seeing all three of them perform so well and how much the crowd was supporting the Scottish athletes was so inspiring and it was an evening that I will always remember. I couldn't help but be so excited to race the next day and think "I want some of that for myself".


I woke up the next morning with a purpose. I was so focussed on what I had to do to get myself fully prepared to step up on that block and perform. My bag was already packed from the night before and I had planned for plenty of extra time in the morning so that I could stay relaxed and get everything done. Despite feeling confident and focussed I was also quite nervous. I struggled to eat breakfast because of this but I knew that it was necessary so forced it down. In the warm up I felt great in the water and I was swimming fast during my pace work, this gave me confidence for my race.


Walking out to the heat of my race I could hear the crowd cheer and the support lifted me. I swam well in the heats and progressed through to the semi-finals in 6th position after beating the number one ranked swimmer in the lane next to me. My heart was racing afterwards but I managed to remain focussed on my recovery process: protein shake; swim down; massage; compression skins; lunch; ice bath then sleep.

Before I knew it I was ready to head back to the pool again for the semi-finals. I repeated my warm up process and again felt great knowing that I had more to give in the heat the following morning.


I walked through the tunnel and out to the block after my name was announced and was welcomed by a huge roar from the Scottish crowd. I got a massive adrenaline rush and was so psyched up to get in and race. I stuck to my race plan by staying relaxed on the first length and then pushed hard on the second length, dropping almost a second off of my heat swim. I made ground on my competitors on the second length and finished the semi-final stage progressing in 5th place into the final. I looked into the stands and saw my large group of family members there supporting me and it was a moment I will never forget. I waved to the crowd to thank them for the support.


I knew that I had to regain my focus after my race and repeat my recovery process despite it already being quite late. Although I didn't get to sleep until quite late that night I had the morning off to sleep in and relax. I went to the pool in the middle of the day for a short swim and massage then had lunch and a nap afterwards.


Travelling back to the pool for the final I was feeling very confident from my performance the night before and was so excited to race for my country. I warmed up in exactly the same way and felt great again. The crowd was even louder for the final swim than it was in the semi-final. I was in the lane next to the world record holder who was known for his incredible starts and I soon realised coming up after the dive I was quite far behind. I did not panic however and tried to remain the same distance behind him on the first length then claw back at the gap on the second. I realised on the second length that I wasn't gaining enough in time and I could feel my medal chance slipping away. I still pushed as hard as I could for the wall though and turned to see the board which read 4th place.


Initially I was disappointed as I felt that it was an opportunity lost despite everyone around me telling me how well I had performed. I went into the race believing that I could win a medal and finishing without one was heart breaking. After having time to reflect on my performance over the next couple of days I thought about where I had come from this season, almost not even qualifying for the team and began to feel proud of my achievement.


I finished off my week of competing by swimming for Scotland in the heats of the 4x100m medley relay team. It was great to represent Scotland and experience the amazing support of the home crowd for the final time of the games. We did our job well and progressed the team into the final.


The Commonwealth Games was an incredible experience and is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned so much about myself during this time which will only help me in the future.


I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Graham and Sibbald for the enormous support which I will always be grateful for whenever I look back at my Commonwealth experience. Living so close to my training venue was vital for optimising my recovery between sessions and balancing a hectic time table and it wouldn't have been possible without Graham and Sibbald's support. I'd love to keep in touch and keep you informed on my next journey towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.