Swimming: Sweetenham sets stringent pass mark in race for Athens berth

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Just because Athens has failed to provide a world-class swimming facility for this summer's Olympics does not mean Britain will be sending a makeshift team.

Just because Athens has failed to provide a world-class swimming facility for this summer's Olympics does not mean Britain will be sending a makeshift team.

In Greece, the rows about the Games pool continue to rumble on. A roof, designed to protect the swimmers from the sun, has been scrapped. Fina, swimming's world governing body, is so unhappy with the facility that an Olympic test event, due next week, has been postponed until June.

In Sheffield the talk is solely of excellence. The qualification standards in force here at the national long course championships, which run from today until Sunday and double as the Olympic trials, are as tough as any in the world.

To secure a ticket to Greece, competitors must not only finish first or second in the final of their event but do so in a time that equals or betters the 12th fastest time in the world. This stringent policy means that in some events even a British record this week will not necessarily be good enough to get to Athens. The mantra emanating from British Swimming, under the guidance of its performance director, Bill Sweetenham, is: "Quality, not quantity."

The logic of the selection process is that no British swimmer should be heading for Athens without a realistic chance of making a final, at the very least.

Sweetenham, a straight-talking, no-nonsense Australian, has already performed minor miracles since starting his current job in the wake of the Sydney Olympics.

The British swimming team failed to win a single medal of any colour at the 2000 Games but was showing signs of recovery at the Manchester Commonwealth Games and evidence of prosperity by last year's world championships in Barcelona. They returned from Spain with eight medals: golds for James Gibson and Katy Sexton, silvers for Mark Foster, Ian Edmond and Sexton and bronzes for Gibson, Zoe Baker and Rebecca Cooke.

All eyes here will be on Gibson and Sexton, not least in Sunday's finals in the men's 100 metres breaststroke and women's 200m backstroke. Gibson faces the tougher test because he is just one of five British men's breastrokers in the world's top 20. The others are the Commonwealth Games 100m champion Adam Whitehead, the world 200m silver medallist Edmond, Chris Cook and Darren Mew.

Sexton and Sarah Price will probably be vying for first and second (and thus the two Olympic places available) in the 200m backstroke final and both will be in action in the 100m backstroke, which sees heats and semi-finals today. "I can feel the pressure catching up with me now," Sexton said. "But I will be in Sheffield with one aim in mind - to reach the Olympics."

Foster, who took the 50m freestyle silver in Barcelona, heads a 28-strong contingent from Bath. It would be a major surprise if the 33-year-old does not win that event here and fails to make his fifth Olympics.

Comments