Palmer leads way as Salter joins squad to Sydney

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The Independent Online

There were many beautiful bodies on show in Sheffield yesterday, but to the swimmers at least, none half as attractive as a small, fat, hairy individual with big ears and a dopey grin.

There were many beautiful bodies on show in Sheffield yesterday, but to the swimmers at least, none half as attractive as a small, fat, hairy individual with big ears and a dopey grin.

Pictures of a cartoon koala are everywhere at Ponds Forge, Olympic qualification being very much the name of the game. Last night, three who already knew they would be on the plane Down Under, Paul Palmer, Alison Sheppard and Sue Rolfe, were joined by Jamie Salter.

The 24-year-old finished second in the final of the 400m freestyle, won by Palmer in a comfortable 3min 49.61sec. Salter edged out Graeme Smith, who also went under the Olympic qualifying time.

Palmer, the silver medallist in Atlanta four years ago, said he was happy with his form as Sydney approached. "At this stage I just want to be swimming times that are respectable with a stroke that feels good. It's not about results."

Pre-selected for the 200m and 400m, he is under no pressure until the 1500m later this week, when he and Smith, the Atlanta bronze medallist at that distance, should qualify.

The mid-morning coffee was still brewing when Sheppard gave an indication of her form by breaking her own British and Commonwealth record in the 50m freestyle heats. The Milngavie swimmer touched in 25.16, taking fifteen-hundredths of a second off her best, and then lowered it further in the semi-final, to 25.12.

The defending champion, Alan Whitehead, and his predecessor Darren Mew both recorded personal bests and Olympic qualifying times in their semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke. However, they must still finish in the top two of the final for the times to count.

Palmer's Bath-based colleague Mark Foster, currently ranked sixth in the world, was also an impressive winner, recording 22.40 in his 50m freestyle semi-final.

There is real talent among the younger girls. Sixteen-year-old Nicola Jackson, dipped below the Olympic qualifying time in her heat of the 100m butterfly, recording an impressive 1.01.05, a time only bettered by 18-year-old Georgina Lee in the second semi-final. The final should be a classic.

Watching events was Bill Sweetenham, the Australian coach who arrived in England this week and who will take over from Deryk Snelling as national performance director inNovember.

One issue he will hope to sort out is the continuing bodysuit debate. Fina, world swimming's governing body, has approved the technology which goes into their manufacture, while the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain (ASFGB) has allowed their use at these trials.

Whether the claims that are made of the suits - that they can improve performance by up to three per cent - are proven accurate remains to be seen. The point is that some swimmers believe them to be true.

Several, including butterfly medal prospect James Hickman, vouch for one particular make, the Speedo "Sharksuit", and wish to continue to wear it at the Games. However adidas, official kit suppliers to the British Olympic Association, do not want to see any swimmers wearing a rival brand of kit.

Speedo, who have long been sponsors of the British swimming team, are apparently prepared to make their suit in something approximating team colours, but do not see why they should remove their logo.

It sounds trivial, but the ASFGB chief executive, David Sparkes, is concerned that the row is beginning to adversely affect the preparation and state of mind of the swimmers themselves.