ROSS MURDOCH was so catastrophically disappointed about his performance at the 2016 Olympics, he seriously considered hanging up his goggles for good.

The University of Stirling swimmer failed to qualify for the for the 100m breaststroke final in Rio and it is only recently that he has admitted that during his post-Olympic break, the thought of retirement crossed his mind more than once. “There were definitely a few very low points - it wasn’t easy for me or my family or my girlfriend and she would be the first one to tell you that it was a very rubbish time,” he admits.

“There absolutely was a time when I didn’t think I was going to come back. I thought ‘I don’t want to go through that again. I really don’t want to build myself up for four years and then have this thing that you thought was going to be the pinnacle of your sporting career be so underwhelming’. It was a massive blow to think that the Olympics was built up and it was actually nothing.”

“There was a long time during my seven-week break when I was like ‘I’m not going to coming back’. I was originally going to take four weeks then I was like ‘no, I’m not going back’. Then another week passed and I was like ‘will I try again? Nah, I’m not going’. Then another week passed, I went to a couple of spin classes and I was like ‘nah, I’m not ready for this again, I’m not going back’.”

And when Murdoch kept postponing his return to the water, it felt like the motivation was gone and was irrecoverable and he admits that he seriously considered switching his focus away from swimming and towards getting a career. However, as with all top athletes, one blow is not enough to end a career and Murdoch did, slowly but surely, get back into the way of things. By last summer, he had rediscovered his top form and was back mixing it with the best in the world, finishing in fourth position in the 200m breaststroke at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest as well as picking up a silver medal in the 4 x 100m medley relay.

While his Olympic disappointment was crushing, it did teach Murdoch much about himself. It made him realise that swimming was what he wanted to be doing, while everything he has been through in the past few years has also taught him that the way to optimise his performance is to regulate his emotions.

“I had a lot of internal conflicts and dialogue going on about what I actually wanted to do and whether it was worthwhile going through another four years,” he said. “I’m definitely better for it because now I’ve come off the back of that thinking, ‘yeah, this is actually for me and I do want this’ and I’m fully committed.

“Ben Higson, my old coach, said to me that sometimes you need to step back from the trees to see the wood. I’ve definitely managed to take a step back, look at things and see the bigger picture. One thing that I had during the last four-year cycle was a lot of emotional highs and lows. “But I’ve always been one to learn the hard way and I can’t change the past now. I just want to try and manage my emotions day-to-day. You don’t have to be great every day - you just have to be great when it counts.”

Murdoch could not have found his form at a better time. In less than three months, the 23 year-old will travel to Australia’s Gold Coast to defend his 200m breaststroke title that he won at Glasgow 2014. His victory in Glasgow four year s ago, where he beat race favourite Michael Jamieson, became a highlight of the Games.

His gold medal-winning swim was so memorable that despite the fact that the intervening years have seen Murdoch win a raft of World and European Championships medals, his Commonwealth Games gold medal remains the one thing he is most recognised for. For some, that would be a frustration but Murdoch seems comfortable being recognised for his Glasgow 2014 exploits ahead of all others. “I didn’t have the best Olympic Games ever and I’d love that to have been the defining moment of my career,” he said. “To be honest though, I was more than happy with Glasgow (being my defining moment).

“There are still a few people that stop me and say ‘I remember what you did’. It’s always nice to hear that people watched and remember that night because it is a night that was very special to me and my family.

“To swim for Scotland is such a unique thing and to be honest, that’s all I ever aspired to do. I would have been happy to retire after the Commonwealth Games and there was a time when I thought Glasgow would be the end for me and I would focus on education and a career so to me, everything else since then has been a bit of a bonus.”

Murdoch goes into Gold Coast 2018 in a completely different position than he went into Glasgow 2014. Four years ago, he was an unknown outwith the swimming world whereas this year, he is defending champion and has a heap of pressure upon his shoulders.

The weight of expectation can be crippling but Murdoch is, he insists, entirely unaffected by the expectation that comes with being one of the leading lights in a Scottish team that has a number of world-class swimmers in it. “People do know my name a little bit more now and they just kind of expect success,” he said.

“In Glasgow, people probably didn’t expect me to throw down the time that I did and to be honest, I didn’t expect that either. Since then though, I have definitely expected more of myself. At each meet, I am definitely a lot harder on myself when I am not performing at my best. The pressure will be slightly different (in Gold Coast) but I relish that. I just love being in that environment.”

Only a handful of Scots have successfully defended their Commonwealth title and often, being the defending champion is far harder than going for a maiden title. Murdoch will have a target on his back in Gold Coast but he insists he has wiped the slate clean and whatever has happened in the past will be utterly irrelevant when the Games roll around.

“I don’t feel like I’m defending anything,” he said. “What happened in Glasgow happened, and no-one can take that away from me but this is a completely new meet and I’ve got everything to prove again. 2014 was 20-year-old Ross Murdoch but I’ve got a whole different situation now - I will be 24-year-old Ross Murdoch with a lot more experience behind me and I’ll definitely try to use that to my advantage.”