Swimming: Sweetenham throws down the gauntlet to Britain's medal hopes

In his assessment of the task ahead of the British swimmers at the World Championships here, the performance director Bill Sweetenham used a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. "The biggest crime is not to set your sights too high and miss, but to set them too low, and hit."

Therefore Sweetenham's minimum requirement for his team over the coming week is to win more medals than they did two years ago at the world championships in Fukuoka, when Britain picked up seven overall - four of them in Olympic events - their best return in a quarter of a century.

"I want at least that," he said, before adding, "and I want everyone to be in a final. And as many people as possible in the top eight at the end-of-year world rankings."

It is a fact that at least 80 per cent of the Olympic medallists next year will come from the top five in the world this year. Ergo, Sweetenham knows that if his team does not bring home a handful of medals next week it will be twice as hard come next year. After the huge investment in the Australian coach, who was brought to these shores three years ago, the sport is expecting him to deliver.

"A World Championships in the year before an Olympics is always much harder than a worlds in the year after an Olympics," Sweetenham points out. "Everything tightens up. But we'll see a British team prepared to stand up and fight."

The squad in Barcelona is not just a one-event team, as the British have often been in the past. There are half-a-dozen competitors among the 34-strong party who have a chance. Katy Sexton and Sarah Price should both make the 100 metres and 200 metres backstroke finals and both could win a medals - after all, they are ranked one and two in the world this year. Meanwhile, James Gibson and Darren Mew are both ranked in the world top 10 in the 100m breaststroke.

The 50m breaststroke is not an Olympic event, so does not count for much in Sweetenham's book, but the 100m should provide one of the tightest races of the week. In the absence of the world record holder, Roman Sloudnov - the only man to have broken the minute in the event - and with the top 10 in the world separated by just 0.8sec, Gibson and Mew join Sexton and Price as Britain's best hopes to win their first individual world gold medal since David Wilkie in 1975.

Graeme Smith won a bronze medal in 1500m freestyle at the 1996 Olympics and returned to top form two years ago with a silver in Japan. However the Scottish swimmer was injured when he was mugged in Manchester six weeks ago. Two days in hospital and two weeks out of the water may yet take its toll on Smith. Thus, 17-year-old David Davis is the hottest prospect in the men's team, and will push Smith all the way in the 1500m.

Alison Sheppard is also within striking distance of the medals in the 50m freestyle. But do not expect a repeat of the gold which the women's 4x200m freestyle team won in Japan. They are not as strong as two years ago, when both America and Australia were disqualified.

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