Swimming: British effort shameful, says Wilkie

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The Independent Online
There is no one like an old sportsman to disparage the new and, 20 years and one day since he became an Olympic gold medallist, David Wilkie yesterday laid into the efforts of the British swimming team in Atlanta, writes Guy Hodgson. Commenting on five days that had brought only Paul Palmer's silver, he said he felt ashamed.

"We are drowning out there and we have become a laughing stock," Wilkie, who won the 200m breaststroke in Montreal, said. "Our showing has become an embarrassment to the whole country and the swimmers have to take the blame. They don't seem to be performing with any pride. Don't they understand what it means to swim for your country at the Olympics?

"A lot of people have been badly let down. It could be 20 years before we are anywhere near the top again. They have simply made feeble excuses: the pool's too deep, it's too hot and there's no air-conditioning. It's the same for everyone. If countries like Ireland can win gold, then so should we."

Calling for funding to create an elite squad for the Sydney Games, he added: "Elite teams must be just that. You have to prove yourself to get into them and, if you don't do it, you don't go to big competitions. If the situation doesn't change immediately then we will fall further behind. I feel ashamed."

This brought an instant response from Nick Gillingham, who finished fourth in Wilkie's event yesterday morning. "British swimming is really on the up," the silver and bronze medallist in Seoul and Barcelona said. "The British Swimming Federation are getting their act together and although I'm retiring I'm not going to be lost to the sport. I will be involved in some capacity or other."

Palmer, who yesterday failed to qualify for tonight's final of the 1500m, added: "We always knew we'd start slowly and hopefully build up to better results. Realistically I was the first medal hope so don't read too much into our results so far. There's strength to come with Graeme Smith and Adam Ruckwood."

Right on cue, Smith, a 20-year-old Scot who lives in Stockport, won Palmer's heat, clock- ing 15min 14.81sec, and went into the final as the second-quickest qualifier. "I don't feel under any great pressure because I still think the Australians are the favourites for gold and silver," Smith said. "I did what I had to do and that was win my heat."

Smith, the fastest man this year going into the Games, keeps his tactics simple. He starts quick and keeps going. At the British trials in March this caught Palmer out, and it was noticeable that Palmer kept on his team-mate's shoulders at the start, using him as a pacemaker.

Doing that at the start is one thing, keeping up with Smith is another matter. At the half-way point Palmer was just a fraction behind the leader, but by the finish the gap was 10 metres. Palmer's time of 15:22.65 was not good enough. "I'm knackered," he said. "Winning the silver has taken it out of me mentally and physically."

If Mark Foster was not in David Wilkie's mind when he aimed his barrage, he probably would be now after he began the day as a potential medallist in the 50m freestyle but ended it excluded from the final. His time of 22.73sec was 0.3sec slower than his best and 0.05sec too slow for the top eight.

"I'm not a morning swimmer," he said, "but if you don't do it in the morning you can't do it in the evening. I was going well in training and looking forward to it. When I was in the water I felt I'd done enough. It was only when I saw the time I realised I'd miss out."

Joanne Deakins, from Coventry, also failed to match her best in the 200m women's backstroke, clocking 2:15.12.