By Thomas Willdridge
SWANSEA, Great Britain, February 19. THIS weekend will see an intriguing duel between two countries with a long tradition of sporting rivalry, Britain and Germany. Both nations will pick up where they left off last December with their second attempt at a 'Duel in the Pool' and will want to make amends for the 185-78 drubbing they received at the hands of Team USA.
Of the two nations competing this weekend, Germany has the more notable swimming heritage. Michael Gross, Franziska van Almsick, and Hannah Stockbauer have all won the Swimming World Swimmer of the Year award previously for Germany, whilst no swimmer from Great Britain has ever been awarded swimming's most prestigious award. Germany also has the drug tainted period of the 1970s and 80s to its name, a legacy that still remains today with several German records dating back to that era.
After a period of relatively limited success on the international stage for both nations in the 1990s and early 2000s, swimming in Great Britain and Germany has seen a welcome resurgence thanks in large part to the Olympic Gold winning exploits of two women in Beijing, Rebecca Adlington (GBR) and Britta Steffen (GER). Their success has been added to by the emergence of new stars such as Paul Biedermann, Helge Meeuw and Daniela Samulski for Germany and Gemma Spofforth, Jo Jackson, Liam Tancock, Hannah Miley, Elizabeth Simmonds and Francesca Halsall for Britain.
In recent international competitions, there has been little to choose between the two nations. Britain finished above Germany in the medal table at the Olympics, but the tables were turned at last year's World Championships where the Germans finished second in the medal table behind the U.S. with Britain back in sixth.
At last year's Duel in the Pool, Team USA showed how important strength in depth is in this kind of competition. A look at both countries' number of World Top 25 swims from 2009's rankings shows that it is Britain who may have the upper hand in the women's competition, but on the men's side the competition promises to be very tight.
Number of World Top 25 swims per stroke in 2009:
Men's Free – Germany 2 – Britain 6
Men's Back – Germany 5 – Britain 3
Men's Breast – Germany 7 – Britain 3
Men's Fly – Germany 2 – Britain 2
Men's IM – Germany 2 – Britain 3
Men's Total – Germany 18 – Britain 17
Women's Free – Germany 4 – Britain 11
Women's Back – Germany 2 – Britain 6
Women's Breast – Germany 2 – Britain 1
Women's Fly – Germany 4 – Britain 2
Women's IM – Germany 0 – Britain 3
Women's Total – Germany 12 – Britain 23
One area that the countries differ vastly on is infrastructure. There is a well-established system of specialist sport schools in Germany where talented athletes can focus on sport and academics. More importantly Germany has approximately 180 indoor and outdoor 50m pools spread all over the country. This abundance of long course pools and exceptional facilities at home means there isn't the exodus of swimmers deciding to train abroad that we see in other countries.
In comparison, Britain has just 27 long course pools (although another 11 are either planned or under construction). This has led to the establishment of five Intensive Training Centers that offer long course training as well as a team of coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists and physios. Whilst most top British swimmers are drawn towards these ITCs, an increasing number of British swimmers are moving abroad to train. GB team members Gemma Spofforth, Marco Loughran, Stephanie Proud, Jemma Lowe (all Florida), Adam Brown (Auburn) and Simon Burnett (Tucson Ford Aquatics) are amongst the British swimmers training in America whilst Ellen Gandy trains in Melbourne, Australia.
One thing that both countries have in common is their inexperience in this style of competition and racing for the team rather than the individual. Team USA showed the European team at the Duel in the Pool how important it was to fight for every point available, and it will be interesting to see which team has learnt the most from that initial experience. Hopefully we will see some fast swimming and improvement in this format from both teams so that the European team can offer a sterner challenge to the U.S. at next year's Duel in the Pool.
Thomas Willdridge is a former Great Britain junior team member swimmer for Nova Centurion. He owns and operates the Speed Endurance swimming blog.