European Short Course Swimming Championships: James Wilby wants Glasgow glory

James Wilby
James Wilby trains at the British Swimming National Performance Centre in Loughborough - in the same pool as Adam Peaty
European Short Course Swimming Championships
Venue: Glasgow Date: 4-8 December
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC iPlayer, connected TVs & BBC Sport online from 17:00 GMT

He won more Commonwealth breaststroke medals than Adam Peaty last year and has the potential to better the Olympic champion's haul at Tokyo 2020 - but few outside the swimming world have heard of Britain's James Wilby.

So spectacular were Peaty's 100m breaststroke record-breaking efforts at the 2018 Europeans and this year's World Championships that Wilby's second-place finishes were largely overlooked.

However, the Yorkshireman's progress over the past 18 months has been incredible, with victory in the 200m breaststroke in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games a significant highlight last year.

And Wilby believes he can challenge for medals in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at Tokyo 2020 - something Peaty has ruled out.

The 26-year-old says it is surreal to believe he is in this "dream" position given three years ago he suffered glandular fever, was in hospital with tonsillitis and missed out on the Rio 2016 Olympics.

This week, Wilby returns to Glasgow for the European Short Course Championships - the city and pool where he made his international debut at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

"I have brilliant memories from racing in Glasgow and have never lost the drive or motivation I had despite what's happened," Wilby told BBC Sport.

Glandular fever, hospital and Olympic agony

After narrowly missing out on the 2015 World Championship team, he returned to training determined to improve before a bid for the 2016 Olympics, but in January of that year he was diagnosed with glandular fever.

"I could only stay awake for a few hours and barely manage a bowl of cereal," said Wilby.

"My daily routine was: get up in the afternoon, eat maybe a bowl of cereal - which was as mushy as possible because of my throat - then try to do normal things like watch TV. But I'd be totally knackered by 8pm and go back to bed."

Despite ongoing problems with his throat, by April Wilby was back in the pool. However, he finished third in the 100m at the Olympic trials behind Peaty and Ross Murdoch, who took the places for the Games.

In a further cruel blow, Wilby was then in hospital with severe tonsillitis in May.

"My throat was beginning to really swell down one side and doctors sent me straight to hospital because they were worried I may soon struggle to breathe," said the swimmer, who admitted he felt "scared" and "pretty grim" at the time.

"I didn't let what happened drag me down completely though, and although it was a rollercoaster I never thought 'that's it'," he added.

The breakthrough and 'that' T-shirt

James Wilby's homemade T-shirt at the 2019 world championships
James Wilby's homemade T-shirt at the 2019 world championships

Wilby made his first World Championships team in 2017 and his partnership with new coach David Hemmings in Loughborough went from strength to strength as he secured four Commonwealth Games medals in early 2018.

"After everything that had gone wrong in the past I was genuinely thinking 'I can't have won' and that I was going to be disqualified or something," said Wilby of his Commonwealth gold in the 200m.

Six months later, Wilby claimed European silver medals in both the 100m and 200m events.

He then delivered the performance of his life to finish second behind Peaty in the 100m at the 2019 World Championships, although it was his reaction to the British men's 4x100m medley relay win which arguably received more attention.

Despite a strong swim in the heats, Wilby was understandably replaced by Peaty for the final and he watched on as the GB team of Peaty, Luke Greenbank, James Guy and Duncan Scott stunned the USA.

Then, as they took to the podium, the cameras turned to the British squad celebrating in the crowd to reveal Wilby had written 'Mum, I swam the heat' in marker pen on his white top.

"It was Siobhan [Marie O'Connor] who said 'we need to get you on camera' and I knew my mum would be watching, so I thought about a message to her," he recalls with a smile.

Could Wilby rival Peaty?

Wilby's 100m silver-medal performance at the 2019 world championships was incredible, but his personal best time of 58.46 seconds was still 1.58s behind the world record Peaty set in the semi-finals.

He is coy when asked about whether he could chase down that time himself, but insists the pair benefit from one another's presence in Loughborough.

"Sometimes we'll have a bit of a race-off but it's really good spirited because we're both competitive and push each other along. We know there's no point getting too heated," says Wilby.

Peaty's style is suited to the shorter events and with the 50m breaststroke not in the Olympic line-up next year he is limited to just the 100m, whereas Wilby has potentially two medal chances with the 100m and 200m distances.

However, there will be no renewal of the Peaty-Wilby rivalry in Glasgow this week, with the Olympic champion opting to skip the event. For Wilby, the focus is about more than medals.

To date, all of Wilby's success has come in long-course 50m pools, which require different skills to racing in short-course 25m pool events.

"It's about putting myself in an uncomfortable position, which will give me more chances to practise these skills and then hopefully help me next year going through to the Olympics," he says.

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