By Phillip Whitten
LONDON, July 20. FOUR more years!
No, that's not the chant you hear from the upcoming US Republican Convention. It's a summary of the contract Aussie import Bill Sweetenham has agreed to sign with British Swimming, keeping him aas National Performance Director through the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sweetenham, 54, joined British Swimming in November 2000 from Australian Swimming on a four-year contract lasting until the Athens Olympics. Since his arrival, British fortunes in international swimming have risen dramatically after the nadir of the Sydney Games. There, British swimmers failed to win a single medal for the first time in Olympic history. Since then, Sweetenham has engineered an astonishing turnaround.
His tenure, however, has not been without it share of controversy. Most recently, Sweetenham's decision only to accept times equalling or bettering 10th place in last year's world rankings for qualification to the British Olympic Team resulted in former world record-holder Mark Foster's exclusion from his fifth Olympic Team. Foster, a former short course world record-holder was a silver medalist at the 2003 World Championships. He won the 50 free at the British TRials this year, but his 22.47 seconds time for the one-lap sprint was five-hundredths over the cut Sweetenham had established. Foster twice appealed the decision, losing each time.
The agreement was welcomed by David Sparkes, British Swimming's executive director: "I'm delighted Bill has agreed to remain with British Swimming," he said. "He's made considerable progress over the past four years with us. We all appreciate there is a lot to be done but I cannot think of anyone better in the world to help British Swimming achieve success in 2008.
"I'm sure Bill will continue to strengthen the team, not only the swimmers but the coaches and support staff as well," Sparkes added.