Swimming: Haller not worried by absence of medals: Optimism over Olympics

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NATIONAL officials sounded an upbeat note yesterday in the wake of the world championships in Rome, which saw Great Britain fail to win a medal for the first time in the history of the event.

The absence of any home swimmers from the roll of honour - Nick Gillingham's fourth place in the 200 metres breaststroke was the closest anybody came to breaking Britain's duck - was not without some consolation.

The British head coach, Dave Haller, insisted that far from struggling to keep up with the rest of the world, domestic swimming has a strong base on which to build for the 1996 Olympics.

Britain had eight finalists in Rome compared with six at the 1992 Olympics. Three British records were broken, two by Adam Ruckwood in the 200m backstroke and one by the women's 4 x 100m freestyle team, and there was also one Commonwealth best, by Karen Pickering in the 100m freestyle.

'My message to the team and the coaches is that they have done a damn good job and we are proud of them,' Haller said. 'They are a credit to their sport and to British swimming. I hope they realise that now they are good competitive swimmers, and they are on the way to being great competitive swimmers. They should go away from here feeling tired but inspired.'

There was little doubt, however, that the physical and mental demands of two major international meetings - the world championships came two weeks after the Commonwealth Games - exacted a toll.

'We have got a lot of work to do before Atlanta, but we have the nucleus of that team now and our swimmers will come back from this experience much stronger,' Haller said.