Sweetenham Issues Tough Challenge to Britain’s Sprinters

By Martin Petty

MANCHESTER, England, June 1. THE REVOLUTION in British Swimming moves one step further today at the British Super Grand Prix, with the implementation of a new system aimed at toughening up the nation’s sprint specialists. The innovative new format is the brainchild of British swim chief Bill Sweetenham, a former Australian head coach, and will no doubt prove to be a contentious issue among the 50m swimmers today.

The event is known as the "skins" format, and is hugely successful in Australia, where big money prizes are up for grabs. In the 50m sprint events, the 8 fastest qualifiers from the heats partake in a knockout event, where one swimmer is eliminated each race. The gruelling battle leaves the swimmers with just 3 minutes rest in between each 50m sprint. It's "winner takes all" for the prize money, but only if elimination is avoided for 7 races and a final head-to-head bout is won. Its debut in Britain sure to be a crowd pleaser tonight.

According to Sweetenham, the ruthless new format will test mental prowess rather than physical endurance:
"The idea is you only have to win one race, but you can't lose any. Provided the swimmers haven't rested before this meet, it will be a celebration of mental courage rather than talent or fitness. It won't be the fastest swimmer who wins, it'll be the swimmer who can recover between races the fastest."

The "Skins" format clearly swings in favor of middle distance swimmers, whose endurance will better that of the sprinters. Some see Olympic silver medalist Paul Palmer – a 400m swimmer – as the favorite to take the prize money in the 50m freestyle. Speed is not an issue. The world’s fastest swimmer, Mark Foster, could go home empty handed this weekend, a somewhat unpalatable scenario for him it may seem.

But tacticians may seek to capitalize on the lack of speed invested in the longer distance swimmers to force early elimination. Others may strategically reserve their efforts for the latter stages of the competition, waving goodbye to one of their counter-parts at the end of each round.

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