GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, June 25. BILL Sweetenham may be a stern taskmaster but apparently his brand of "tough love" is having a major impact on the fortunes of British swimming.
At this weekend's Scottish Nationals and Youth Championships, the final qualifying competition for Great Britain's World Championship team, the former Australian head coach and mentor of ex-world record-holder Tracey Wickham had his charges in top form.
Breaststroker Ian Edmond, who had never been faster than 2:15.6 in the 200, went a stunning Scottish national record 2:12.70 here Sunday evening on the final day of the competition and now ranks fifth globally. Previous, he had never cracked the Top 25.
Sprinter Alison Sheppard set a British record in the 50 fly (of 27.05) and now ranks No. 2 globally.
Backstroker Joanna Fargus, as reported earlier, set an NR in the 200 (2:11.04) and ranks No. 2.
Britain's men's middle-distance freestyle is also showing distinct improvement, as evidenced by the 400 free race. The winner was James Salter (pr 3:50.47) while runner-up was Edward Sinclair (3:50.53).
Sinclair improved upon his 3:52.01 that ranked him 19th globally last season while Sinclair wasn't among the world's Top 150 in 2000 — but ranked 16th in the 200 free.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this evening came in the 200 free, where unheralded Nicola Jackson, a promising 18-year-old whose previous pr was a 2:00+ from Sydney, stormed the pool and touched in a fast NR 1:59.32 —
breaking the old mark set by compatriot Karen Pickering of 1:59.65 just a few weeks earlier at the Trials in Manchester.
Until this year the only British woman under 2:00.0 had been June Croft when she went 1:59.8 to win the Commonwealth Games title 19 years ago. Now suddenly Britain finds itself with not just one, but two women under the two-minute barrier.
The "Land of Hope and Glory" now has Nos. 3 and 5 in the current world rankings and combined with Karen Legg's 2:00.17 (No. 10) can put together a pretty impressive and definite medal-contending 800 free relay.
Then there's the women's backstrokes. Aside from Fargus' No. 2 clocking here, Katie Sexton's 2:11.65 ranks her fourth and Sarah Price's 2:11.90 is sixth-fastest. Unfortunately only the top two will compete in Fukuoka.
Price's NR in the 100 back (1:01.32) ranks her third.
Combined with Graeme Smith's NR 7:57.93 in the 800 and his earlier 1500 of 15:03.15 (third-fastest) and Britain suddenly has the makings of a versatile
and talented team — both women and men.
The last English swimmer to take home an Olympic gold was Adrian Moorhouse in the 100 breast at Seoul 13 years ago, and no English swimmer has ever won an individual World Championship title save David Wilkie — who eon three in 1973 and '75 and, of course, prevented a sweep of all the golds by the U.S. at Montreal in 1976 when he won the 200 breast.
But Sweetenham's charges have responded with alacrity of late and if they can withstand the pressure of the hopes and aspirations of 50 million fans starved for a winner, Britain could have a big impact on the outcome of numerous races at Fukuoka.
True, Britain has had its share of disappointments (sprinter Mark Foster in the 50 free, an event in which he holds the short course world record, and flyers James Hickman and Stephan Parry are not on the team per Sweetenham's edict although they have done world-class times this year). But Smith, Edmond, Jackson, Price, Sheppard et al. are some rather formidible names indeed.
Are you listening, Mr. Talbot?
– Bill Bell
Complete results under RESULTS