Swimming: Gold for Davies as Sweetenham's new wave sweep in
Wednesday 22 March 2006
As David Davies turned to negotiate the last of his 30 lengths of the Commonwealth Games pool yesterday the theme from Jaws came over the PA system. It was a day for Wales in the shark-infested waters of Australian swimming.
In winning the men's 1500m freestyle, and by the aquatic equivalent of a street, the 21-year-old Cardiffian sank his teeth into a prize that had been sacred Aussie sporting property since 1958. It was the first Commonwealth gold claimed by a Welsh swimmer for 32 years and the 15th by a Briton in Melbourne, adding up to a sweeping wave of justification for Bill Sweetenham.
The Australian performance director of British Swimming was much maligned when his tough-love methods promised much but delivered only a pair of bronze medals at the Athens Olympics two years ago. Sweetenham has also been obliged to ride formal accusation of "bullying" methods from disaffected members of the British team. But with eight golds for England, six for Scotland, one for Wales, and 36 medals in total, (an English record six of them for Mel Marshall and a Scottish record four for Gregor Tait) Sweetenham has succeeded in turning the tide. Australia might have finished on top in the gold medal count, 17-15, but the combined British forces pushed them to the very last event - the 4x100m medley relay, which produced the first men's victory for the host nation. There were 12 wins by British men.
Not that Sweetenham was triumphalist. "I think we're reaping the rewards of a strategy and long-term plan," he said. "But I think it will take another couple of years to really bear fruit. We still have the challenge of converting this to world level. We have to go back and get down to work and address the world stage.
"We've got coaches that are as good as any coaches in the world and we have a new group of swimmers coming through who aren't happy just making the team. They want to make the podium. There's a new culture, a new attitude of confidence and belief."
Asked whether it was a good time for his detractors to shut up, Sweetenham replied: "I don't want to go there. I'm going to keep my feelings to myself. The results say what we've done. The results say that the plan's on track; it's coming together. We've got a stockpile of talent coming through that's as good or better than anyone else in the world."
That much was evident yesterday, with Davies striking gold for Wales, Becky Cooke winning 400m individual medley silver for England and the English and Scottish quartets taking silver and bronze in the men's 4x100m medley relay.
The women's 4x100m medley relay produced a world record for the Australian women, who won 16 out of 19 events on the programme, and a silver for England - the second relay medal in two nights for Fran Halsall, the 15-year-old baby of Bill Sweetenham's British new wave.
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