Games-New Zealand swimmer Jeffcoat savours Birmingham gold after Olympic letdown

(Reuters) – New Zealand swimmer Andrew Jeffcoat bounced back from the “brink of depression” in the wake of missing the Olympics a year ago to savour a hard-won gold in the 50 metres backstroke at the Commonwealth Games.

The 23-year-old clocked a personal best and New Zealand record of 24.65 seconds to pip South Africa’s Pieter Coetze at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham on Monday.

It came after a slew of setbacks in the lead-up and a heart-breaking near-miss for a medal in the 100m event.

“My career’s been full of ups and downs,” Jeffcoat told New Zealand media.

“And every time there’s a down, I’ll have my moment, to dwell on it, to have a bit of a cry and a bit of a moan, but I’ll get back and I’ll use it.

“Missing out on the Olympics last year was one of those moments – sitting back at home on the brink of depression.

“But instead of giving up and calling it quits, I vowed myself that I would do everything I can to not miss out on the team again.”

Jeffcoat contracted COVID-19 from a team mate days after booking his ticket to Birmingham and fell sick again in the run-up to a disappointing world championships in Budapest.

Finishing fourth in the 100 backstroke in Birmingham on Saturday was such a hammer blow that he struggled to congratulate team mate Lewis Clareburt for his surprise victory in the 400m medley on the same day.

“I was a bit heartbroken – so I wasn’t there to support him as I should have,” said Jeffcoat.

Jeffcoat’s development as a swimmer was overshadowed by the loss of his long-time coach Ken Nixon, who died suddenly during a domestic swim event in 2019.

He said he had been trying to keep Nixon out of his mind while racing in Birmingham.

“If I was going to have a result like I did today, now was the time to think about it – and hopefully I’ve done him proud.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)