Swimming: Foot not counting the years

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Swimming

GUY HODGSON

reports from Sheffield

In a sport where the veteran stage comes not so long after leaving school a thirty-something is not so much rare as extinct. Or it seemed so until Caroline Foot made it into Britian's team for the Olympic Games yesterday.

Competing in the final event of the Optrex Olympic Trials, Foot made a statement for the Grecian 2,000 generation by qualifying in the 100m butterfly. Then she made a stronger statement for why so few swimmers last into their thirties.

"There's a major gap in terms of support between the ages of 20 and 25," Foot, 31, said. "Swimmers do one Olympics and think that's it for them. There has to be a better incentive system for people to stay in the sport."

Foot, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist 10 years ago, made the Games in Seoul in 1988 and when she failed to make the team four years later went into a semi-retirement. It was only when she was picked for the England team last year that hope flickered again and she gave it a last go.

Six years older than anyone in the race, she clocked 1min 1.89sec to dip under the qualifying time by 0.44sec. And to prove she is improving with age it also improved her personal best time she set in 1988.

"I'm enjoying it more now because it's something I want to do rather than because it's something I've always done," she said. "I was feeling very confident."

Karen Pickering did not improve on her own best in the women's 200m freestyle but her 2:01.39 was eminently respectable considering she was feeling lethargic. "I was feeling really tired," she said, "so I'm fairly pleased with the time. I'm going to have to do a lot of work before I go to Atlanta."

Nevertheless her race was among the best at the trials because Sarah Hardcastle was coming back at her at the end. Pickering, a world short- course champion in the event in 1993, shot off her block and was half a second inside the British record at 50 metres.

Hardcastle's strength is her strength, however, and as Pickering paid for her early pace she came back at her and after being nearly two seconds behind at the 150-metre mark Hardcastle finished up just half a second down.

A silver and bronze medallist at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and with much of her speed work to come, she will have been encouraged by her proximity Pickering.

While Hardcastle's swim recalled another era, events on Saturday wiped out a bit of history, two of the longest standing (and therefore most embarrassing) records in British swimming at last being erased from the books.

James Hickman is not a household name but he could become one in the next few years after beating Phil Hubble's mark for the 200m butterfly that has stood since 1981. The 20-year-old from Stockport Metro reduced it in the heats and then the final, cutting it by a total of 1.71sec to 1:58.50 and becoming the first Briton to break two minutes.

Hubble faxed a message - "Well done. About time too" - and that seemed to please Hickman as much as the record. "To get something from someone who's done it, who really knows how much training's gone into it, that was really special," he said.

Susan Rolph, 17, crowned a week of personal bests by shaving 0.8sec off Jean Hill's 1986 record in the 200m individual medley. She is going to be busy in Atlanta, having already qualified for the 50m and 100m freestyle.

The younger generation did not quite have it all their own way, as Foot would prove the following day. Nick Gillingham, a silver and bronze medallist in the 200m breaststroke in 1988 and 1992, qualified to attempt to complete the full set. At 29 he has passed into the antiquated rather than the old category, but he walloped the next generation by more than two seconds.

MEN

50m freestyle: M Foster (Cardiff). 100m freestyle: N Shackell (Millfield). 200m freestyle: P Palmer (Lincoln), A Clayton (Leeds). 400m freestyle: P Palmer (Lincoln). 1500m freestyle: G Smith (Stockport), P Palmer (Lincoln). 100m breaststroke: R Maden (Rochdale). 200m breaststroke: N Gillingham (Birmingham). 100m butterfly: J Hickman (Stockport). 200m butterfly: J Hickman (Stockport). 100m backstroke: N Willey (Barnet Copthall), M Harris (Tower Hamlets). 200m backstroke: A Ruckwood (Birmingham), M Harris (Tower Hamlets) 200m Ind Medley: No qualifier. 400m Ind Medley: No qualifier.

WOMEN

50m freestyle: S Rolph (Newcastle). 100m freestyle: K Pickering (Ipswich), S Rolph (Newcastle). 200m freestyle: K Pickering (Ipswich). 400m freestyle: S Hardcastle (Bracknell). 800m freestyle: S Hardcastle (Bracknell). 100m breaststroke: J King (Waltham Forest). 200m breaststroke: M Hardiman (Birmingham). 100m butterfly: C Foot (York). 200m butterfly: No qualifier. 100m backstroke: H Slatter (Warrington). 200m backstroke: J Deakins (Coventry). 200m Ind Medley: S Rolph (Newcastle). 400m Ind Medley: S Hardcastle (Bracknell).

Relay teams to be announced today.

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