Team GB's wonder women can make a splash in the pool at London 2012 Olympics

There are high hopes for joy in the Aquatics Centre due to the brilliance of Adlington, Miley – and two coaches from Australia

A dozen years ago, Britain's swimmers returned from the Sydney Olympics without a single medal between them. Today if any sport typifies the dramatic revival of Britain into an Olympic power – for that is what they now are – it is the men and, in particular, women who will compete beneath the breath-taking wave-shaped roof of the Aquatics Centre over the course of the next week.

British swimming is back, even if it is thanks to an initial hefty kick from behind by a gnarled Australian. What Bill Sweetenham began in forthright, and often deeply unpopular, fashion in the wake of the Sydney debacle has been carried on by his compatriot Michael Scott, who has loosened the shackles somewhat and watched the medals come if not flooding in then at least arriving in quantities that could not have been imagined a decade ago.

Britain finished third in the swimming medal table in Beijing, thanks largely to Rebecca Adlington's brilliant double gold – a feat that ranks with any in British Olympic history. In all, the swimmers gathered six medals. For London Scott's squad has been given a target of between five and seven. Britain has not won seven medals at a Games since 1908; apart from Beijing, only twice since 1912 has Britain won five and both those came at Games boycotted by leading nations.

It is a significant improvement and one that is founded on the emergence of a group of female swimmers that is the best this country has seen – this really is a generation that could strike gold.

At the world championships in Shanghai last year Britain won five medals and missed out on a further three by 0.2 seconds. Ellen Gandy, winner of silver in the 200m butterfly, missed gold by four hundredths of a second. Scott, a former director of the Australian Institute of Sport who took over British swimming from Sweetenham five years ago, has focused on cutting what he labels those "marginal differences".

Training has been focused on five specialist centres around the UK, including Glasgow, Loughborough and Bath, which has allowed a concentration of coaching and other resources funded by £25.1m from UK Sport – only athletics, by some £4,000, cycling and rowing receive more central funding. Like most of Britain's key Olympics sports, the attention to detail is meticulous. From nutritionists drawing up menu cards for team members to scientists exploring how to reduce a swimmer's drag through the water, anything that could provide an extra edge – close up those "marginal differences" – is explored. Ben Titley, the coach of the Loughborough based swimmers, takes his charges cross training – they have done ballet and rock climbing among other activities. Fran Halsall, who has multi-medal ambitions, and Liam Tancock, the best hope of a men's medal, both believe the diversity has been a key part in their progress.

Tancock is the world champion at 50m backstroke but unfortunately for the Briton that is not Olympic event. He will compete in the 100m and will believe he is capable of a medal even though he is not among the favourites.

But it is not force feeding – the rigidity of Sweetenham's regime, the initial short, sharp, shock, as it were, has been relaxed. "It's not too strict," explained Hannah Miley, a medal hope in the individual medley.

Miley is a case in point. She chose not to be part of the Intensive Training Centre set-up, remaining instead in her home pool, a modest 25 metre public baths in Inverurie in the north-east of Scotland. She has done so with the full support of Scott and his coaching staff. Some of the younger swimmers in the British team have even been dispatched from their Sheffield base to spend time training alongside Miley, a silver medallist at last year's world championships.

One part of the support network that Miley has used is the psychologist; she has made regular visits to Simon Middlemas over the last two years. "I never thought I'd need a psychologist," said Miley. "How wrong I was. I'm an athlete that trains 36 hours a week, spends 28 of them in the pool. I'm on my own most of the time – it would be pretty difficult to say I'm normal! [It's important] to be able to have someone you know to talk to, instead of keeping things bottled up. I've gained a lot more experience through the help of a psychologist. I feel a lot more in control of what I'm doing."

Adlington has also used Middlemas regularly and credits him with a key role in shrugging off her post-Beijing slump. The years in the middle of the Olympic cycle, 2009 and 2010, were difficult for Adlington, but she is now back to her best – she has never swum faster in the early part of the year as she has in 2012.

Adlington's performance will again be pivotal if Britain are to match burgeoning expectations. Anything other than gold in the 800m would be a huge surprise. The 400m will be more difficult to defend against the Italian Federica Pellegrini and Camille Muffat, the in-form French freestyler.

After Adlington the best gold medal hope actually comes from outside the pool. Keri-Anne Payne is the defending world champion in the open-water swim. She was the first name of the 542 written on to Britain's team-sheet when she won in Shanghai last year and an improvement on a silver earned in Beijing is likely.

There are then a trio of women, Miley, Halsall and Gandy, who are, given a good run, capable of winning gold. The known unknown of home advantage may have an impact. Miley was among a number of the British swimmers claiming to have felt inspired during the trials in front of a reduced audience in the Aquatics Centre earlier this year. They are eager to experience what the support of a 17,500-strong full house will sound like.

The 22-year-old Miley bears the imposed responsibility of being the first of the British medal hopes to swim; the 400m IM final is on finals night one in the pool, the day after the opening ceremony. It is another curiosity of the Olympics that an early medal can often act as an inspiration to the rest of the team – equally the longer it goes without any British feet clambering on to the Aquatics Centre podium, the more the tension within the squad grows.

Halsall can match Adlington in earning medals in more than one event. Including the relays, she will swim in five and has a world ranking in all three of her individual categories, 50 and 100m freestyle and 100m fly, that indicates potential for a podium finish. The 20-year-old Gandy, who lives in Australia, would be disappointed to fail to match her world silver in the 200m fly and could also snatch a bronze in the 100m.

Jemma Lowe, another fly swimmer, Gemma Spofforth (100m backstroke) and Elizabeth Simmonds (200m backstroke) all occupy places at the upper end of the world rankings or have won medals at major championships so can contend the lesser medals.

There is considerably less optimism around a young men's team. Tancock is a world champion at the 50m backstroke, but it is a non-Olympic event and he will need to produce his best-ever swim to earn bronze in the 100m. In another era James Goddard would have harboured decent hopes of an individual medley medal, but with Micheal Phelps and Ryan Lochte about, bronze is the absolute best he can achieve. There are younger swimmers, like 17-year-old Craig Benson, who have potential for Rio 2016 and beyond but for the here and now British swimming is a women's world.

Three rivals to trouble Team GB

Kathleen Ledecky

She is the youngest member of the US team, but the 15-year-old from Bethesda in Maryland might – just might – pull off the biggest shock of the Games and deny Rebecca Adlington gold in the 800m freestyle. Ledecky even being in London is a shock to her let alone anyone else, but only Adlington has swum quicker this year. Earlier this month Ledecky won the uber-tough US trials in 8min 19.78sec, little more than a second outside the time Adlington recorded in the British trials. Adlington is favourite, but will keep a wary eye on Ledecky over the 16 lengths.

Elizabeth Beisel

Beisel was the youngest American in Beijing and now at the ripe old age of 19 is favourite to win the 400m individual medley on the opening night in the pool and so rain on the home parade. Hannah Miley has eyes on that first British gold. It will be close because Miely's time in winning the British trials earlier this year is less than a second slower than Beisel's benchmark for the season, swum at the US trials. Beisel is the reigning world champion.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo

The delightfully named 21-year-old Dutchwoman picked up a relay gold medal as a teenager in Beijing but is now more than ready to go solo. She tops the world rankings in both the 50 and 100m freestyle and while Fran Halsall harbours hopes of a medal in both, Kromowidjojo will fancy gold in both. Has made a remarkable return to form this year after missing most of 2011 with meningitis.

Life and Style
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game