British men fail to make a splash

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The Independent Online
Britons have not exactly been making scorch marks in the Olympic pool this week but even in this underwhelming atmosphere the performance in the men's 100 metres backstroke would have had the national coaches tearing their hair out in Atlanta yesterday.

In Neil Willey and Martin Harris, Britain had the third and sixth fastest men in the world this year, yet those performances looked totally misleading when they failed to reach the final. Not by a small way either, but by a margin as big as the question mark over the team's preparation.

Willey, a silver medallist in the World Short Course Championships last year, finished a dismal fifth in his heat with a time of 56.27sec, more than a second slower than his personal best. Harris, the British record holder, was even worse with 57.17 and finished 26th overall.

"I don't know what was wrong," Willey said. "I wasn't ready mentally or physically. I will have to sit down with my coach and work it out." Asked about the build-up, he preferred to keep his counsel.

The male backstroke swimmers were not alone in their disappointment. Caroline Foot, at 31 the second eldest swimmer ever to compete for Britain at the Olympics, was more than a second outside her best with 1:03.04 in the 100m butterfly, while Marie Hardiman finished sixth in her 200m breaststroke heat.

At least she could take home a rare consolation, a time faster than in the trials last March. At 2:31.12 she was marginally quicker and it earned her a place in the B final.

However, the air of gloom is putting Paul Palmer's efforts into a better light.

Yesterday, the 21-year-old from Lincoln made it to his third final of the Games when he was sixth fastest in the heats for the 400m freestyle.

Palmer was outside his own British record, but his time of 3:51.98 was good enough to see off the American Tom Dolan, gold medallist in the 400m individual medley. A finalist in the 200m and the 4x200m relay, Palmer was behind Dolan for the first half of the race but overtook him in the third 100 metres to finish second behind New Zealand's Danyon Loader. Dolan, ultimately, finished fourth in 3:53.91.

South Africa's Penelope Heynes, meanwhile, is cutting through records. Having set a world mark for the 100m breaststroke on Sunday, she added an Olympic record for the 200m breaststroke with 2:26.63.