PHOENIX, September 27. BILL Sweetenham has had a bumpy but generally forward-moving tenure as the National High Performance Director for swimming in Great Britain.
He may be subject to some fair criticism for handling of sprinters. And the Olympic selection process he spearheaded was quite arbitrary and inflexible, when not always necessary, but it did provide a certain motivation and urgency. It may have also unnecessarily produced its best performances for some of Great Britain’s athletes at their trial rather than in Athens.
But those were generally considerations more affecting individual athletes, rather than the “program” approach Sweetenham apparently chose to make. And clearly the British high performance program as a whole, measured by objective standards such as placements in world rankings and Olympic medals, finals and semi-finals (and personal bests primarily on the men’s side in the Olympic pressure cooker) has undeniably progressed under his tutelage.
On his return from Athens, Sweetenham found himself subject to criticism for producing “only” two bronze medals. His response was essentially two fold: 1) you get what you pay for, and 2) give the program more time to bear fruit at the highest, most visible levels.
SwimInfo correspondent Craig Lord offers his insights and perspective on this interesting situation.
By Craig Lord
BILL SWEETENHAM, the embattled performance director, said yesterday that the two bronze medals won by Great Britain in the Olympic pool last month were a fair return from a national team, coaches, doctors and support staff who had to survive each year on a quarter of the annual salary afforded to Sven-Göran Eriksson, the England head coach, by the Football Association.
Sports competing for funds and critics have placed a £7 million price tag on the successes of Stephen Parry and David Davies in the pool in Athens, but Sweetenham maintained that Britain got what it had paid for. "I have a budget of £1.08 million a year," he said. "Work it out in relation to your national sport . . . that money goes on salaries, camps, competitions, the costs of world-class specialists, medical and office staff and more besides."
The national swimming team and elite programme were run on sums that would make swimming the world's "poor cousin . . . there are ten universities in the United States where the swimming budget is greater than we have for the national team".
Nor did the sport have a sponsor to lean on, he said. "In Australia, the budget is Aus$7.8 million (£3 million) before funding from state governments and institutions and commercial sponsors," Sweetenham said. To add up eight years of funding for the sport and divide by the number of medals in Athens was "daft beyond belief".
Two medals and the most finalists that Britain has had outside boycott years was painted as failure by some, but Sweetenham said: "Britain came from a long way back. Our men's team was second only to Japan in terms of the number of personal bests they produced. We were not where I believe we were capable of being in Athens, but we've come a long way."