Swimming: Hackett hails Davies, a star in his slipstream
Sunday 24 July 2005
Yet the fresh-faced Davies will be wary of doing a Matthew Hoggard in suggesting that Hackett is a "bit old" to continue operating at the peak of his powers. However, there are signs that a new kid is about to arrive on the block. And, perhaps most importantly, Hackett knows it. For he gave the 20-year-old Welshman the highest of compliments when telling his own national media last week that the Olympic bronze medallist "could be the best swimmer to come out of Britain in years".
Davies is by no means favourite to topple Hackett just yet, though. The world No 1 swam 14min 44.94sec at the Australian trials earlier this year while the Cardiff man swam 15:02.33 last month - albeit without a rival to test him seriously - showing just how wide the gulf remains. Yet these are exciting times for the British miler, who finished just out of the medals at the last world championships. This time he should make the podium, perhaps using the stage to announce himself as the heir apparent.
"The last two years have been a massive learning curve for me," he said. "I'm a bit more experienced now. When I went to Barcelona [in 2003] I had my eyes opened. I couldn't believe it. This time I am going to be a bit more calm and relaxed about it."
Wisely, Davies plays down the notion that the mile is about him and Hackett. "There are eight guys who will line up in the final, so you can't just make it a two-man race."
Of course, Hackett has a lot more than Davies to think about. The fastest miler in history is taking advantage of the absence of Ian Thorpe and has entered the 200, 400, 800 and the relays. Like most Australians, he seems to relish a challenge.
Britain's squad, as they did a year ago in Athens, arrive at a major championships with a lot of expectation. At the Olympics, however, only Davies and Steve Parry (since retired) picked up bronze medals, with the world 200m backstroke champion, Katy Sexton, Melanie Marshall and James Gibson in particular disappointing. Though, in Sexton's defence, her preparations were affected by her asthmatic condition. The unwritten suggestion was that the team had suffered not so much from stage fright as from being overtrained. This time there should be no such excuses or questioning of the coach Bill Sweetenham's programme.
Marshall is perhaps the Steve Harmison of the squad. Blessed with the ability to be the best on any given day, she can be plagued by a lack of self-belief at crucial times. Which one will show up in Montreal? Hopefully, she will have her game face on for the 200m freestyle, where she is one of the favourites. The event is one of the most open on the programme, with Marshall - No 2 in the world - coming up against the Olympic champion, Camelia Potec of Romania, and Italy's world No 1, Federica Pellegrini.
Stripping away the hype that invariably surrounds these championships, there are other swimmers in Team GB who should take medals. They include Caitlin McClatchey, the world No 2 in the 400m freestyle, and Rebecca Cooke, the quickest over 800m in the world this year.
Britain have two reigning world champions in Sexton and Gibson (50m breaststroke), while James Goddard will fancy his chances of a medal in the 200m backstroke. However, gold seems out of the question: the American Aaron Peirsol looks one of the better bets of the week.
Sexton is simply grateful she has the opportunity to defend her title. "The Olympics were a disappointment. There was so much going on in my head and illness-wise. It has taken a good six to eight months and gradually building up on the training again, seeing a psychologist, things like that," she said.
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