Swimming: Foster feels full force of new regime

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The Independent Online

Mark Foster provided the shock of the Olympic trials last night by failing to make the grade for Athens. Although the 33-year-old, four-time Olympian, who won silver in the 50 metres freestyle at last year's World Championships, won the 50m British title here, his time of 22.47sec was 0.05sec outside the stringent qualifying criteria laid down by Britain's Aus-tralian performance director, Bill Sweetenham.

Mark Foster provided the shock of the Olympic trials last night by failing to make the grade for Athens. Although the 33-year-old, four-time Olympian, who won silver in the 50 metres freestyle at last year's World Championships, won the 50m British title here, his time of 22.47sec was 0.05sec outside the stringent qualifying criteria laid down by Britain's Aus-tralian performance director, Bill Sweetenham.

"It's disappointing," Foster uttered. His body language said the rest.

It was left to Melanie Marshall to coin a new catchphrase for the British team after an otherwise encouraging five days of action at the national long-course championships, which doubled as the Athens trials.

"I don't mean to be rude," the 22-year-old Loughborough student gasped to a poolside interviewer as she recovered from another record swim. "But I'm trying not to vomit."

It was hardly eloquent but it did cut to the chase about what British swimming under Sweetenham is now all about. Commitment. Consistency. Hitting the heights at the right time. Work until you're sick, and win, or get out. It's that simple and that brutal. And give or take the odd casualty like Foster, it's working.

Britain will send a team of 36 to Athens, all of whom came first or second in their events here while simultaneously clocking times equal to or faster than the 12th-quickest times in the world last year. The Sweetenham regime is interested only in Olympic finalists. Passengers are a waste of space.

Marshall has been one of revelations of the trials, winning the 200m freestyle last week (setting two British records on the way) and adding the 100m yesterday in a record time of 54.62sec. She will represent Britain in Athens in both events and on her current progress, medals are there for the taking. What a difference four years make.

"Not waving but drowning," was the epitaph of British swimming in Sydney. The swimmers won no medals of any colour for the first Games in 64 years. They weren't so much dead in the water as camped out on their lilos waiting for the next cheque from the Lottery.

Enter Sweetenham, a no-nonsense taskmaster with an obsession for winning. After starting work in Britain, in the literal and metaphorical wake of Sydney, he set about kicking backsides. His shoe bill must be positively massive.

A good Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 was followed by eight World Championship medals (two golds) in Barcelona last year. Last night, Britain could legitimately claim to have a squad of serious Athens contenders. There was barely a damp squib in the house.

Yesterday's 11 finals saw five more British records to add to the 14 that had been set in the five-day trials. Darren Mew won the most hotly contested event last night, the men's 100m backstroke, in a British and Commonwealth record of 1min 1.29sec. The 23-year-old from Bath defeated four of the world's other top 20 breaststrokers, including the world 50m champion James Gibson, whose second place was still good enough for Athens. Chris Cook and Ian Edmond, who had already qualified in the 200m, finished third and fourth, with Adam Whitehead fifth.

Last night's other big showdown was in the women's 200m backstroke. Katy Sexton, who won gold over the distance in the World Championships, won in 2min 11.48sec, ahead of Karen Lee in second. Both go the games in the 200m at the expense of third-placed Sarah Price. Price will represent Britain in the 100m though, as will Sexton. "That was the swim of my life," said 21-year-old Lee.

There were also British records yesterday for David Davies, Gregor Tait and Adrian Turner respectively in the men's 1,500m freestyle, the men's 100m backstroke and the men's 400m individual medley. Welshman Davies, 19, won in 14min 17.93sec from Graeme Smith, whose time was also good enough for Athens. Tait, who broke the Commonwealth 200m record last week, swam 54.90sec. Turner won in 4min 16.65sec.

Was Sweetenham pleased with the trials? "They were OK," he said. It's enough to make a swimmer sick.

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