Sweetenham blames stage fright for medal flops

"Rome Was not built in a day, but it can and will be built." That was the stirring, defiant message yesterday from Bill Sweetenham, the national performance director of British Swimming, after the conclusion of the eight-day Olympic meet here.

"Rome Was not built in a day, but it can and will be built." That was the stirring, defiant message yesterday from Bill Sweetenham, the national performance director of British Swimming, after the conclusion of the eight-day Olympic meet here.

The Australian's "realistic target" of two British medals in the pool at these Games was reached in enthralling fashion on Saturday night, when Cardiff's 19-year-old David Davies swam the race of his life to win bronze in the fastest 1500m freestyle Olympic final ever. Yet Sweetenham knows he has critics who will denounce his team's overall performance as poor and blame him.

His own take, rightly, is that things are heading in the right direction. After Britain won no medals in Sydney four years ago, two bronzes here - from Davies, and from Stephen Parry in the 200m butterfly - was no "shame Games" repeat. Ten individuals made finals here, as against five in Sydney. Five relay teams here had shots at medals, albeit unsuccessful, by making finals.

But Sweetenham did not flinch from candid assessments of how things might have been better and what needs to be done to make them so.

"The team was physically as well prepared as any other team," he said. "But we had Olympic phobia constantly present in our preparations." This was a reference to the Sydney hangover but also, effectively, an admission of mental weaknesses on the biggest stage.

"We need a stronger coach development programme offering greater depth of experience to coaches and to include, as a priority, big-meet psychology development," he said. He added that this was the area of British swimming that had most room for improvement. "It's not what you do, it's how you do it," he said.

Ten countries won more medals in the pool than Britain. In mitigation, Sweetenham argued that that was because more nations are now competitive at the top level. He should have added that China, like Britain, only won two medals.

"Australia took 20 years, from 1980 to 2000, to build its programme," he said. "Australia has great weather, a large budget and lots of facilities, all three of which we don't have."

What Britain does have is potential, and it is being tapped. With talent, guts and fearlessness, Davies smashed the British record to come within 2.55sec of the world No 1, Grant Hackett. Davies could yet become the bedrock on which Sweetenham builds his Rome.

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