MARK Szaranek felt relief more than anything else when confirmation came that he had been selected for Team Scotland for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

After the gut-wrenching disappointment of missing out on Glasgow 2014 by a whisker, the 22-year-old did not want to experience that again. However, the announcement last week of the 21-strong swimming team for the Gold Coast ensured that, fitness permitting, Szaranek will be making his Commonwealth Games debut in less than six months.

Rather than take any pressure off though, Szaranek believes his selection focuses his mind even more acutely on what needs to be done between now and April.

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“It feels great to have my place in the team confirmed,” he said. “But there’s still pressure there because I want to go to the Games and compete well. I know I need to really put the work in over the next few months so that come April, I’ll be in the best shape I possibly can be. So I won’t be taking my foot off the gas at all, that’s for sure.”

With the swimming team for Gold Coast considerably smaller than that which was a part of Team Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, making the grade was no mean feat. Reflecting on what has changed in the three years since the heartache of Glasgow 2014, Szaranek admits he barely recognises himself.

“To have made this team, four years after the disappointment of Glasgow, even though this team was much tougher to get into, is a very good feeling,” he said. “I think it shows how far I’ve come – I’ve developed so much in the past three years. In 2014, I was just a young boy whereas now, I’ve matured a lot both in swimming and in life. I’ve developed so much as an athlete so now, I’m far beyond where I was in 2014.”

Szaranek has had a busy few months; following his World Championship debut in July, he enjoyed a well-earned break before returning to the Unites States, where he has been studying chemistry at Florida University for the past three years. This semester has thrown him something of a unique challenge though – to learn Polish.

The Scot requires a foreign language in order to graduate and so, in tribute to his family roots – his great grandfather relocated from Poland to Scotland sometime around the war – he thought he would try his hand at learning the language.

“Before this semester, I had no understanding of the language other than the most basic things like hello,” he says. “But it’s going OK and I’m definitely improving, although it’s not the easiest language to learn. It’s interesting though, and I’m going to try to find out more about my family history because my teacher was asking me about it in class.”

Being based stateside means Szaranek will not be forced to brave the beginnings of a Scottish winter over the next few months but nevertheless, he has a tough spell coming up, with college competitions coupled with an intense block of training awaiting him in the run-up to Christmas. “Training-wise, things will be as intense as they are going to get over the next few months so it’ll be tough, but it’ll be good fun too,” he said. “We also have some college meets coming up – one of them is against Indiana and Texas which will be great because they have some world class swimmers on their teams. And we’re at home for that, so that’ll be great to be a part of.”