The Sunderland student, in matching expectation, had been an exception to an inglorious rule. Wilson, 21, clocked 15min 13.35sec but his was a bit part compared to the race of Australia's Kieren Perkins, who shattered his own world record. His 14:43.48 broke the old mark by nearly five seconds, making amends for his second place in the World Championships last year and his silver in the 400m freestyle here.
Perkins, nearly a yard ahead by the end of the first length, scattered the world's best 1,500m swimmers, beating his second- placed team-mate, Glen Housman by 12 seconds. Wilson was more than half a pool adrift.
Wilson's race took place amid a waterfall of soul searching among British swimming officials and competitors. 'Judge us on the number of personal bests' had been the suggestion before the Games. The lowly number of seven did not bring a favourable verdict.
'It has been extremely disappointing,' Paul Bush, the team manager, said. 'This has been the best prepared British team ever. They were in extremely good shape before the Games. Why they didn't perform to their potential I simply do not know.' An inquiry has begun and will be presented to the British Olympic Association on 27 October.
Britain arrived in Barcelona with nine swimmers in the world's top eight of their particular event but only four reached a final - Wilson, Adrian Moorhouse, Nick Gillingham (twice) and Mark Foster. The medal haul, Gillingham's bronze in the 100m breaststroke, is the worst since Adolf Hitler was taking victory salutes in Berlin 56 years ago and the women have now failed to reach a final for two successive Olympics.
Terry Denison, the head coach, fired a scattergun of blame ranging from a lack of Government backing to a disregard of the work ethic by today's young swimmers, but he was also looking at his own role. 'I will be considering my position,' he said. 'I have never resigned or backed out of anything in my life but I have to consider how I can best help British swimming. Maybe it would be better to go back to club coaching and hope to produce another Adrian Moorhouse.'
Denison, Moorhouse's coach from age 14, added: 'We are not producing the younger swimmers, particularly among the women.'
Which is not what you could accuse China of. Yesterday Yang Wenyi broke her own world record in the women's 50m, clocking 24.79sec to secure her country's fourth gold of the Games. Only the US women have performed better. With the poison pens of their own press scribbling and the curtain hovering over swimming's final night, the American team just about got their lines right, Summer Sanders securing their fifth victory in the final of the 200m butterfly.
Sanders, who was born in autumn and has been performing like a cold day in January, was behind China's Wang Xiaohong and Australia's Susan O'Neill for all but the last 10 metres yet got the touch in 2:08.67 with a charging last length. After three misses, her Games had turned to gold.
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