By David Richards
LONDON, England, July 24. BRITAIN’S Alan Bircher faces a tough battle if he's to be among the medalists once again when he launches the British effort at this year's European Championships in Budapest on Wednesday.
The University of Bath open water swimmer goes in the 10k event, on the first of 12 days of swimming, synchronized swimming and diving, and will be hoping to add to the silver he gained in the 5k event two years ago in Madrid.
Bircher is one of a huge squad of 63 British athletes across four sports that will face the rest of Europe in the Hungarian capital.
The Europeans are being used by Bircher as part of his long term development as an athlete with the Melbourne World Championships in March of next year and the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as the main focal points.
"I feel in great shape but I've been working on getting my fitness back to where it needs to be these past few months after a disappointing 2005. I'll still be looking to get in there with the big guys and we'll see what happens then.
"The only guarantee is that it's going to be really tough. The course is a simple, straight out and back but with the water temperature at 28C, an air temperature of 40C and the sun beating down on your back it's going to test everyone to the limit."
Because of the conditions Bircher thinks there are a number of athletes who will be in the hunt for honors as the field will be leveled.
"In the men's events I think there will be around 15 swimmers who have got a good chance of being in the medals. There's five or six who will be looking to finish strongly but this heat is going to make that difficult.
"This heat is definitely going to suit both the Italians and the Spanish as it's closer to their climate so I'll be watching those guys."
Bircher will have a two-day rest following the 10k event with the 25k on Saturday his next challenge.
"I'm looking forward to the 10k but in this heat the 25k is going to require something extraordinary. The longer events are going to really drain you so I'll need to make sure I'm perfectly hydrated and rested."
Bircher is joined on day one of the European Championships by British team mates Pippa Davies, Issy Newman (both Swim Swansea) and Cassie Patten (Stockport Metro) who go in the Women's 5k event.
The women will be in action the next day in the 10k race while John Owen (City of Edinburgh) will go in the Men's 5k.
British sychronized swimmer and Commonwealth medalist Jenna Randall (Rushmoor) will also get her European Championships underway on Wednesday when she goes in the Free and Technical routines of the solo event.
She teams up with Olivia Allison (Rushmoor) the following day for the Duet routines.
Swimmers and divers begin the European challenges on Monday, July 31 and Tuesday, August 1 respectively.