British 400 IM Record Falls to Unheralded Robin Francis

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND, Dec. 10. BILL Sweetenham must know a thing or two about developing world-class swimmers.

The former coach of double World Champion/world record-holder (400-800 frees) Tracey Wickham, who was the dominant female distance swimmer of the late 1970s and who undoubtedly would have mined Moscow Olympic gold had she opted to go (she didn't beecause of political pressure although Australia itself participated), Sweetenham is now Great Britain's national coach and
he's beginning to make his mark.

Over the weekend at the Speedo Grand Prix (lcm), both Sarah Price and Joanne Fargus broke the latter's 2:11.04 national-standard in the 200 back with prs
of 2:10.97-2:10.99.

This within a few days of the competition the duo is really pointing for, the European Short Course Championships in Antwerp starting this weekend, so
presumably both were neither fully rested and/or tapered.

Then on the Grand Prix's closing night Sunday, unheralded 19-year-old Robin Francis set yet another GBR record, this a stunning 4:18.30 400 IM swim. From having the 145th-fastest global performance off his old pr 4:25.39 from last summer, Francis now ranks ninth globally (performer) and 19th (performances).

Pretty head stuff for the 19-year-old Bath University student who's yet to swim in an international competition for Britain, which will come this weekend at the ECs.

The old British record was 4:19.30 by James Goddard from lastsummer's European Jr. Championships in Valeta, Malta.

That's the sort of performance we're looking for," Swewetenham said, "somebody who'll get up there on the blocks and do something bloody good."

Is his latest protege ready to challenge Italy's World Champion, Alessio Boggiatto?

"Let's not get carried away just yet," Sweetenham cautions. "The boy's yet to swim his first lap in an international competition. We'll be happy if he just makes a good account of himself."

Francis said he was "very happy" with his record performance, and that he was "just looking to get my qualifying time for national lottery funding. But when I looked up and saw I'd got the British record I couldn't believe it. I felt comfortable and knew I was a long ways ahead, but there was no way during the race that I thought I was on [pace] for the record."

Francis had earlier smashed the national record in this race during the British short course Championships last August in Norwich. He remains open-minded but confident about the task ahead of him at the ECs.

"No, I don't really feel any pressure to win or set records. This will be my first senior event so there's no real expectation for me in Antwerp. I'll
take it as it comes, but after my form here, who knows what I can do? I've been at Bath for just over a year now, and I feel stronger than ever before and I'm training a lot more than I have in previous years, so I feel very confident for the future."

While Francis may be the youngest male on the squad, the oldest, 31-year-old sprinter Mark Foster, will be seeking gold in perhaps his final major international sc competition. Foster is the wr-holder in the 50 meter free (scm) and here he may be opposed by Croatia's Duje Draganja, a freshman at Cal Berkeley who was European Jr. Champ last summer in the 50-100 frees as well as a Sydney Olympic semi-finalist in the 50 free.

Draganja is 18, and was all of six when Foster made his Olympic debut at Seoul in 1988. Foster also hopes to regain his 50m fly mark, broken last weekend by Australia's Geoff Huegill.

— Bill Bell

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