When I did my review of 2007 I didn’t mention the GB Swimming team at all – and that’s not so surprising because at the end of last year it seemed that we might have a slight crisis on our hands. Aussie Bill Sweetenham who had been employed at great expense by GB Swimming had not returned the results that we wanted at various championships and had caused much dissent amongst the swimmers. Several, including Mark Foster had “retired” in protest.
However since Mr Bill’s departure (did he go or was he pushed?), the GB Team has gone from strength to strength and I feel it is time to draw some success to the attention of the denizens of Pseuds.
As I write, the temporary short course pool in Manchester is hosting The World Short Course Championships and Great Britain lie second only to the US of A. They have won the most medals overall, but of course it’s golds that count. We are not beating the Yanks, but surprisingly, we are beating the Aussies. Perhaps Bill’s regime is now paying dividends. Almost every swimmer is clocking personal bests even when they are not winning medals. It is a performance to be savoured and enjoyed. And, we are told by the experts, that this is exactly the right time, pre-Olympics, to be turning in life-time bests.
It might be something about Manchester. In last month’s Track Cycling World Champs, Team GB swept the board and laid down some very serious markers for Beijing. Star performers included Chris “The Real McHoy” Hoy; Bradley “I have the hair and will use it” Wiggins and Victoria “I’m lovely and am quite prepared to pose naked for Observer Sports Monthly” Pendleton. All got double golds and everyone else did their bit too.
Jamie Staff – won his medal then spent an awful lot of time with Hazel from the BBC – told us that the velodrome had been resurfaced and so when you crash now, you don’t have to worry about 10 inch splinters up your thigh – a fate that has befallen him before now. Perhaps this lack of injury fear helped our boys and girls. I think it helped Brad and Our Cav (Mark Cavendish) in their spectacular performance in the Madison. This is the most difficult to understand and dangerous of the track cycle races. Involving teams from 10 or so countries, two men have to complete what seem like endless circuits, switching lead man from one to another at high speeds and avoid all crashes. Cav and Brad at one point were at least one lap down, but they read it well, timed their attacks perfectly and won.
And as we return now to Manchester, and the strains of the Verve’s Bittersweet Melody keep ringing out almost as often as that dull old God Save the Queen, it seems that our GB swimmers have decided to carry the mantle of our winning cyclists and go out there and bloody well win a few races.
There are still a couple of days to go in this World Championship Short Course Swimming thing, but anyone who has watched the likes of Liam Tancock, Kirsty Balfour, Becky Adlington, Kate Haywood and of course the old man of the sport, Mark Foster – 37 years-old and just won a silver medal – well, it stirs the spirit. It is easy to get a bit carried away now and think that perhaps we’ll win some medals in non-sitting down sports this summer.
Of course just now, all the talk pre-Olympics, is to do with the progress of The Torch. London, Paris and San Francisco have allowed demonstrations to take as many headlines as the progress of the torch. Politicos of all colour are spouting the usual rubbish about the Olympics being non-political. We know that sport and politics have been intertwined for most of our lives if not before – I can’t be the only Pseud to remember cricket grounds being sabotaged in the name of anti-apartheid protest.
I’m not sure what to think about the bigger picture, but right now, I think it’s about time we celebrated a very very big chunk of success for our swimmers. Tonight I think we finish with about 11 medals. Two more days to go.