Swimming: Britain look to pool of talent: Guy Hodgson reflects on the ripples created by the new wave in the European Championships

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AS Britain was celebrating the most successful European Championships since 1958, in terms of quantity if not quality of medals, a touch of reality could be gleaned from the medals table. Hungary (population 10 million) had accrued six golds, Finland (5m) had three. In comparison the one for the home country (50m-plus) seemed paltry.

But after the sombre aftermath of the Olympics, when most of the nation's swimming hierarchy seemed to be contemplating falling on their swords, it would be quibbling in the extreme to nit-pick. Judge us on the number of personal bests, the coaches had said in Barcelona, and then the verdict was not favourable. This time British records fell like dominoes.

Britain reaped nine swimming medals from Ponds Forge Pool, which, with one diving and two synchro, pushed them just beyond the 11 won in Vienna in 1974. It was the final event, the men's 4 x 100 metres medley, that provided the last nudge with a bronze. The time, 3min 41.66sec, easily surpassed the previous domestic mark and it was appropriate that Nick Gillingham, Britain's one outstanding swimmer, played his part.

His 60.78sec for the breaststroke leg was the fastest he had ever swum in the relay and pointed towards where he will be competing if he continues to the Atlanta Olympics. At 26 he feels the 200m breaststroke, in which he won Britain's sole gold in Sheffield, might be beyond him in three years time. The 100m, however, might just be within the limits of his age.

As to other futures, the brightest would appear to be Lincoln's Paul Palmer. The 18-year-old's silver in the 400m freestyle was rated the most surprising by Paul Bush, the team manager in Barcelona, and now England's director of swimming. 'That was a true world-class field,' he said, 'only Australia's Kieren Perkins was missing, yet Paul got within inches of a gold medal.'

The outstanding British women's performer was Karen Pickering, who overcame her disappointment in the 100m freestyle, where she failed to justify her ranking, by collecting a bronze in the 200m and two further thirds in relays. She was among the most vocal last year in opposition to the pre-Barcelona training camps, stating she preferred to work with her coach, David Chapman, in Ipswich and she has put her success this time down to a more home-based aproach.

'With hindsight there may have been a training camp too many,' Bush conceded, 'but in theory the more preparation the swimmers had the better they should have performed. This time we've been able to allow swimmers the freedom to train on their own because the Europeans were in this country. Some sort of compromise will need to be worked out for next year's Commonwealth Games in Victoria (Canada).'

Bush hopes that compromise will be found by the person given overall control of British swimming if the money can be found to fund the post. 'The gloom may have been overdone after Barcelona,' he said, 'and it is important that the results in Sheffield, wonderful though they have been, do not provoke a similar over-reaction. It's a great platform to start from. That's all.'

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