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Time to try a little Sweet talk after British swimming’s World Championships failure

August 5, 2013
Time to talk: Former British Swimming National Performance Director Sweetenham is available to help Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Time to talk: Former British Swimming National Performance Director Sweetenham is available to help

Bill Sweetenham, the Aussie who shook British swimming out of its torpor a decade ago, has made himself available to help sort out the mess of Britain’s abysmal performance at the World Championships.

Despite lavish funding of £21.3million in the build-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016, the best that can be said of our team at Barcelona — other than for Fran Halsall’s late bronze medal in the 50m freestyle last night and a non-funded diver who struck silver — is that nobody drowned.

They finished with just one swimming medal, their worst result from a world championships since 1994 — a sobering contrast to 10 years ago, also in Barcelona, where Sweetenham-led Britain produced 23 finalists and eight medallists, two of whom won gold.

Sweetenham, who now runs a performance consultancy in Queensland, said: ‘I am always happy to help British swimming in any way I can. I still believe strongly in British swimming.

‘I am still sure they can be in the top five in the world. But it will take a big effort. They have to have more self-belief.’

British swimming appears beset by a chronic negativity. That was glaringly evident two years ago, at the last World Championships in Shanghai, when athletes and management talked down their chances as much as possible. There was more life in a graveyard than in their press conferences.

On to London 2012, at which they managed three medals between just two swimmers, Michael Jamieson and Rebecca Adlington — now retired — then to this desperate low in Spain.

‘I don’t want to be critical,’ said Sweetenham. ‘People don’t understand what it takes to get success at the highest level. I had to rock the boat pretty hard to get things done.

‘It doesn’t always go down well because it pushes people out of their comfort zones. The temptation is to back out, but you have to sell the vision, sell the dream. It takes time and is difficult, but you have to put performance ahead of popularity, reality ahead of hope.

‘There is certainly enough talent among the athletes in Britain, no question. Look at track and field and cricket and rugby, etc. It shows the sporting talent is there. Swimming pools in Britain are full of talent.’

British Swimming is in a phase of transition after a post-Olympic review. Chris Spice, who is new to the sport, has taken over as performance director and Bill Furniss, Adlington’s old coach, has been appointed head coach.

Sweetenham rates both men highly, believing they ‘have the intelligence to adjust and make the changes that are necessary’.

He believes moving the trials closer to the championships, as a result of the review, is probably unwise in any case and that certainly it should not have been experimented with before such a significant event as these World Championships.

Sweetenham added: ‘The major thing is not technical, but in the head. They need to get people winning at relatively minor meets, by which I mean European level. Coming through adversity and pressure to win breeds belief.’

Swimming’s failure of mindset is like that which beset athletics in this country before Charles van Commenee, the now departed head coach, refused to tolerate mediocrity or excuses. Medals flowed. British Swimming’s chief executive, David Sparkes, last year dedicated himself ‘to drive cultural change, built around a no-compromise approach’.

Pity then that their own Twitter account has indulged failure with slaps on the back. Hearty ‘well dones’ are handed out for sixth, seventh and eighth places and worse.

The Twitter operators have rightly praised Plymouth Leander’s Ruta Meilutyte, the 16-year-old prodigy and a star of the championships. But she is Lithuanian. And as for Gary Hunt, silver medallist in the 27-metre diving event, he does not receive official backing.

So, what to do? Investing a  fraction of the £21m on a call to an old friend Down Under would be a start.


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