British Swimming is in advanced talks about staging a Ryder Cup-style "duel in the pool", pitting the best swimmers in Europe against the United States at an event likely to take place this autumn in England, probably at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.
If the plans unfold as envisaged – and the Americans are already committed to sending a "full-strength team" – then theUnited States' Michael Phelps, winner of eight golds at the Beijing Olympics last summer, will be the headline act. And Britain's heroine from China, the double gold-winning Rebecca Adlington, will be the highly marketable face of the European challenge.
British Swimming's chief executive, David Sparkes, said talks were "ongoing" with Europe's strongest swimming nations about their involvement. A team including the strongest countries – France, the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, as well as Britain – would give the US, who are the world's best, a test if not a beating.
On an upbeat day for British swimming, Sparkes was addressing a press conference to announce a record £15m sponsorship deal with British Gas that should boost the chances of home medals in the pool at the London Olympics in 2012 .
British Gas will invest the money in all areas of British aquatic sport – diving, synchronised swimming, water polo and Paralympic events, as well as swimming – over the next six years.
No swimming governing body in the world has ever sealed such a lucrative deal with a headline sponsor. The new money will be split "roughly 50-50" between elite athletes and grass-roots funding in a range of initiatives falling within the remit of the slogan "from paddling pool to podium".
British Swimming has a new performance director, the American Dennis Pursley, who is among the best coach-administrators in the world.
He has worked at the Australian Institute for Sport and headed US swimming for 14 years, leading his country to the top of the Olympic medals tables in three consecutive Games. Of the £15m of new cash, Pursley's elite athletes will benefit from an investment of around £7.5m in facilities, coaches and support between now and 2015, and he said that money could "make a very significant difference" to performance.
"From what I've seen so far, I'm very excited," he said of his new job, and added that he believed British swimming could achieve even more than the respectable six-medal Olympic haul in China. "Our objective is to achieve significantly more in London [in 2012] than Beijing. Britain is just scratching the surface of its potential. I'm not saying we can become better than America or Australia within three years, but we can close the gap."
A "duel in the pool" would do much to raise the profile of swimming, a sport given a lift by the heroics of Adlington et al last summer. The US already contests an event of the same name on a biennial basis with Australia. It has been staged three times since 2003 and the US has won each time. The Ryder Cup-style duel would work along similar lines, featuring the Olympic roster of 28 events in total.
Number of millions of pounds invested by British Gas in British pool sports over next six years.Reuse content