Swimmer Max looks back on his breakthrough year

Max Litchfield
Max Litchfield

In an Olympic Games, fourth place is generally considered the worst position to finish.

First loser. Medals are within touching distance, but agonisingly out of reach. Close, but no cigar.

For Badsworth swimmer Max Litchfield, fourth place in the 400m individual medley final in Rio earlier this year, represented no such anguish.

For him, it was a personal triumph, a huge leap forward.

“I was very happy with fourth. Going in to Rio it was a case of trying to reach the final and then trying to nick a medal,” said the 21-year-old City of Sheffield swimmer.

“Obviously that didn’t happen, but to record two personal best times in one day, on day one of the Olympics, my first Games, is something I’ll never forget and something I’m very proud of.

“It wasn’t close between me and third, a second-and-a-half. If it was on the touch I’d be frustrated.

“I would have liked to have gone faster but I gave it my all, so I’m certainly not disappointed.”

Merely being selected for the Olympics was a validation of the hard work Litchfield had put in over the years, firstly at Doncaster Dartes, and then at Ponds Forge with the Steel City team.

His progress in recent years had accelerated quickly after a 12th place finish in the 400m individual medley at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years ago, in a weaker field. But the hunger that gave him for the top events saw him redouble his efforts and a first British title in the same event just months before Rio gave him the belief.

He said: “I went into the final in Rio thinking I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“I didn’t quite get a medal but I put my name on the map.

“You can always say what if, whether you’re first or you’re last. But once you start doing that you can get into a negative mindset. For me, I like to look at the positives. I’ve made big strides forward the last few years.”

Litchfield feels he is capable of more improvement with his preferred event involving 100 metre swims in all four strokes.

The challenge now is to use Rio as a platform, with the first step on the road to the 2020 Olympics coming in Windsor, Canada, recently when the Badsworth lad broke the British record in the 400m IM and brought home a superb silver medal from the World Short-Course Championships.

Litchfield said: “We’ve already started thinking about Tokyo.

“I’ll go through a timeline with my coach (Russ Barber) of three or four big steps on the way to the next Olympics.”

World and European Championships and the 2018 Commonwealth Games stand on the horizon with Max now seen as a real medal contender in all of the major events.

A combination of a relaxed team ethos in the British squad and a reduction in the number of swimmers the nation took to major meets, has served him well.

Litchfield added: “It’s been very relaxed the last few years and that has helped the team come on.

“We surpassed the target we set ourselves in Rio. Everyone gets on with everyone, you work with your group coaches and then it feeds up to the top.

“At the end of the Rio meet, there was an enormous sense of pride. We’d all swam so well.

“You’ve got to make the times harder. If you’re letting a team of 30/40 athletes go they’re not going to necessarily win medals.

“That sounds harsh, but they’ll only take you if you have a chance of winning medals, and if not – tough luck.

“That’s how it’s worked the last few years.”