Britain send youth on a medal hunt

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The Independent Online

Not since the Olympic Games of 1920 has Belgium hosted a major international swimming competition. Antwerp is an appropriate venue therefore to see some of Europe's Olympic champions lining up for the fifth European short-course championships, which start today.

Not since the Olympic Games of 1920 has Belgium hosted a major international swimming competition. Antwerp is an appropriate venue therefore to see some of Europe's Olympic champions lining up for the fifth European short-course championships, which start today.

These championships have, in the past, tended to be low on the priorities of Europe's finest but with the Dutch pair of Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn joining a Swedish and Italian contingent that are taking the competition seriously, these promise to be the toughest Europeans yet.

Despite the resurgence of British swimming this year – the seven medals they won at the World Championships in July was the best return for 26 years – Britain is not sending its strongest team to Antwerp.

Indeed, the absence of the European record-holder Zoe Baker is testament to the performance director Bill Sweetenham's insistence on focusing only on long course and Olympic events.

Four junior swimmers have been selected in a team that conforms to every cliché of youth and experience. Nevertheless, the 24 swimmers making the trip will be confident of surpassing the 18 medals, including two gold, that were won last year.

Mark Foster is the defending champion in the 50m butterfly and world record-holder in the 50m freestyle, an event the 31-year-old has won three times in the last four championships.

Despite his glittering short-course success, Foster is not predicting world records this week.

Another Briton tipped for gold is Sarah Price. A relative newcomer to the international élite, Price capped a memorable summer with a world record in the 200m backstroke. Her time of 2:04.44 stood until last month when it was broken in New York by the American Natalie Coughlin.

Price will attempt to win back the record on Sunday, declaring it "on loan" to Coughlin. The in-form 22-year-old last week achieved the rare feat of simultaneously holding the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke British records, both long course and short course.

Rebecca Cooke and Nicola Jackson also lead the European rankings and are likely to make waves this week.

But James Hickman, the former world record-holder in the 200m butterfly, has been feeling the pressure. By his own admission, this has been a "terrible year" and if he is to retain his Commonwealth title in Manchester next year, he has to perform this weekend to restore some of the confidence he has lost.

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