Talent identification key to GB record medal haul says British Swimming chief

GB won eight medals at the Tokyo Olympics including four golds.

David Charlesworth
Sunday 01 August 2021 11:50
Team GB’s swimmers have had their best-ever Olympics (Joe Giddens/PA)
Team GB’s swimmers have had their best-ever Olympics (Joe Giddens/PA)

Chris Spice the national performance director at British Swimming puts the Tokyo 2020 success in the pool down to a talent identification overhaul and an emphasis on the colour of medals rather than the number.

Team GB have collected a record eight swimming medals in the last week with four golds, three silvers and a bronze, their best ever haul at the Olympics and a remarkable revival after their failure to win a race at London 2012.

Spice took up his position the following year and, while he freely admitted their reversal in fortunes has happened gradually and not instantly, he gave an insight into what has been implemented to turn Britain into world-beaters.

Keeping youngsters in the country rather than going on scholarships abroad has been crucial for Spice, GB head coach Bill Furniss and head of elite development Tim Jones, using the example of double Olympic champion Tom Dean.

“If I go back to 2013 when I started, one of the reasons I took the job was that I could see that we could swim fast but we couldn’t swim fast when it matters,” Spicer said.

“There was a whole programme around how do we swim fast in the arena? Our talent ID through Tim Jones has just gone off the charts. We are so much better now at knowing exactly who is going to make it.

“If I take Tom Dean as an example, he already had two sister in the States on scholarships and we thought there’s a natural progression, he’s going to go to the States. But we fought like crazy to make sure that didn’t happen.

Adam Peaty has won two golds and a silver at Tokyo 2020 (Adam Davy/PA)

“Through Tim and Bill, and a whole lot of other athletes, we got Adam (Peaty) to talk to him, ‘you need to stay in Britain’. That was four or five years ago now.

“We have only five or six good ones a year probably and we have got to make sure we get them in the right place, with the right coach and the right programme.”

Peaty has been central to the resurgence. The 26-year-old from Uttoxeter won their only gold at Rio 2016 and added another two here, but the pressure has been lifted off his shoulders by the likes of Dean and Duncan Scott.

“Adam’s a trailblazer, his attitude is world class,” Furniss said. “The public see this. They don’t see the 365 days a year where it is total commitment but the other swimmers and athletes do. What a great job he has done.”

Dean, still only 21, won two individual and relay golds in the men’s 200 metres freestyle in the Japanese capital while Scott became the first British athlete to collect four Olympic medals in a single Games.

“(It’s been) a phenomenal performance across the board,” Spicer said. “If you asked us the question before if we would get that many medals, not just the number, but the colour, it’s a significant shift in where we’ve gone.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, we have had seven years of that. It’s about creating the environment where they can build their self belief.

“The kids were great. It’s nice to be talking about the colours of the medals rather than the numbers.”