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Best-ever British display bodes well for London

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Steve Parry | 21:48 UK time, Sunday, 2 August 2009

The most fascinating swimming meet in history is over and if I was going to give you the highlights I'd still be writing this a week on Tuesday! So I'm going to be completely biased and focus on Team GB.

Last year at the Olympic Games in Beijing we won three medals; two golds for Rebecca Adlington and a bronze for Jo Jackson.

Fast-forward 50 weeks and the British swimming team have won seven medals and never looked so good at a World Swimming Championships.

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The success has come in spite of a feast of 43 world records being set, our double Olympic champion having a far from perfect week, and six fourth-place finishes that could have been podium performances.

It all bodes well for London in three years time.

We have also seen first hand this week what a difference a home crowd can make.

The Foro Italico has produced a unique atmosphere at the 13th World Swimming Championships and anything the London organising committee for the Olympic Games can do to replicate the way this event has been staged will be welcomed by the athletes, coaches and spectators alike.

Great Britain were only been beaten by Denmark in the amount of national records set, which is a fantastic indication of the improvement across the board.

By almost every measure this team is better than all previous World Championship teams. It has the largest number of finalists, the most national records, team points accumulated and, of course, medal podium performances.

Jo Jackson (right) out-shone her close friend and rival, the double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington (left)

Jo Jackson has been the star performer for me this week with medals in the 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle.

She missed out by a whisker on a medal in the 200m freestyle but if she had managed to be a fraction quicker and beat Allison Schmitt of the USA to the bronze, we would be talking about her in the same breath as the world's best multi-eventers like Libby Trickett, Stephanie Rice and Katie Hoff. OK, the medals aren't gold yet, but would you bet against her achieving those lofty heights?

It was fantastic to see Jaz Carlin produce a world-class performance in the 4x200m freestyle, and in so doing help Caitlin McClatchey, Adlington and Jackson to a European record and bronze medal in the relay.

Domestic competition is the key to driving success on the world stage and over the next few years I believe this quartet will spur each other on to having a formidable 4x200m freestyle team.

If Jackson was the star performer this week, then Gemma Spofforth produced the best performance for Britain with a championship-winning swim in the 100m backstroke in a new world record time.

Both her frame and attitude are impressive in equal measure. Her time in the USA has taught her to race tough and her disgust at not winning a medal in her new-found 200m backstroke is an indication that she is never satisfied.

The catalyst for British swimming's new-found confidence was undoubtedly Becky Adlington's two gold medals in Beijing.

By her lofty standards she was off the pace this week, and yet still won two bronze medals in the 200m relay and 400m freestyle.

She has not been helped by the suit situation at these championships, wearing a textile/polyurethane composite, but my belief is that her failure to make the podium in 'her' event - the 800m freestyle - will put fire in her belly that will rage so fiercely that the rest of the world should watch out.

At any point during the last 50 years her two medal performances would have been seen as unrivalled success, but this is a new team and nobody's expectations are higher than her own.

I got a little emotional seeing 19-year-old Fran Halsall produce a medal in the 100m freestyle. She beat some of the best in the world to finish runner-up in this blue-ribbon event.

She is raw sprint talent and is learning to hone her skills under the tutelage of coach Ben Titley. From the age of 15 she has been talking about the allure of a home Olympics and how great it would be to win a medal there.

Liam Tancock broke his own world record to take gold in the men's 50m backstroke

The girls were flying the British flag single-handedly until the powerhouse that is Liam Tancock entered stage right in the final session. It took him 24.04 seconds to break the world record on the 50m backstroke, and secure some gold for the lads.

Backed up with a fourth place in the 100m backstroke, Liam is in the form of his life and is keen to concentrate on his stamina for the Olympic distance.

'Suitgate' is over for now and we'll be returning to textile suits from 1 January, 2010.

No matter what your opinion is of the 43 world records we have seen this week, one thing we can all agree on is the leadership from world governing body Fina was at best very weak.

I like to see world records, and although 43 is excessive it did make for exciting sport, which has attracted a different sort of fan. My concern is by winding back the technology clock 10 years it means the records set here are unattainable for a generation.

I'm not convinced the suit saga is over and fully expect Fina to reverse their decision at some point in the run up to the London Olympics. One thing is for sure, it won't effect the revolutionary improvement of the best swimming team Great Britain has ever seen.


  • 1. At 11:26pm on 02 Aug 2009, irishcath wrote:

    I too have been amazed at the achievements BUT...where is the respect and joy in this ode or in any of the coverage (finish of race not included in BBC Sports video clips selections either) for the extraordinary gold in the 10k swim???! I can't believe you have left mention of Payne, that she has not been given equal mention... what an achievement. Sorry I find this unforgiveable.

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  • 2. At 07:11am on 03 Aug 2009, 0darroch wrote:

    Surely if the suits are outlawed, then the records set wearing them should also be scrubbed, doesn't that follow logically?

    We don't want a situation where records are unbreakable because the performancing enhancing add-ons are no longer available. Farce such as Biedermann lowing his PB by seven seconds in a year and therefore breaking records of far better swimmers must never happen again.

    These suits do not represent progress in the sport, they are akin to a skijumper wearing wings, or a sailing boat having a motor, they completely undermine the immense skill involved in being successfull. The only other solution is to make it compulsory for all swimmers to wear them, which would be a farce in itself.

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  • 3. At 08:29am on 03 Aug 2009, RickyM wrote:

    In response to irishcatch (1), I suppose this blog refers only to Swimming in the pool, as Open Water Swimming is considered a different sport by FINA. But even so Keri-Anne Payne deserves additional praise for competing well in the 200m after her gold-winning 10k performance. If we are talking about the whole championship, we should mention Tom Daley as well!

    Anyway congratulations to Britain. You don't know how frustrating is to be Spanish and the country's media getting excited about a bunch of medals in Syncronised Swimming.

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  • 4. At 10:12am on 03 Aug 2009, nibs wrote:

    A pretty poor performance by team GB. Parry and guys what you 'forget' to tell us is the small matter that in Beijing there were 104 medals up for grabs and in Rome double that amount. Yet GB got just 9 from 6.

    The classification tells the whole story: GB were 3rd in Beijing and -despite the London 2012 buildup and money- dropped way behind Germany and were THRASHED by Russia and China that were way behind them in Beijing.

    Quite a disappointment in all honesty, and all the spin in the world can't put that right.

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  • 5. At 10:53am on 03 Aug 2009, glennis_naylor wrote:

    I think talking about the classifications is somewhat irrelevant when you take into account the size of the other countries Nibs mentions, the number of swimmers each country has to choose from and the development systems. However, I think we should look at the positives from this championship and see that GB are progressing nicely in the swimming. Our swimmers are pretty young and there is still the Commonwealth Games and another World Championships to come before 2012, so if our swimmers keep developing then its looking better and better for the future.

    As for the suits, then FINA should stick to their decision and ensure that all suits are banned so that this situation can never happen again. All the records should either get erased so that everyone starts on the same playing field or they should get asterixed so that everyone knows they were achieved with these controversial suits. Either way, FINA have to restore credibility back to their world records.

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  • 6. At 11:12am on 03 Aug 2009, malwhereartthou wrote:

    Harsh to say team GB peformance was a "disappointment". Certain individuals distinguished themselves; Jo Jackson, Liam Tancock, Fran Halsall, Gemma Spofforth and also Kerri-Ann Payne and Tom Daley all performed brilliantly. Sure I have forgotten some others. Granted, there we a couple of slight disappointments like Rebecca Adlington, Gandy, maybe Miley but for the most part all these women are young and lacking experience or coming off of tough, tough years and still competed hard with minor medals in the bag.

    Special mention needs to made for Adlington, I felt for her when she cried during her interview bless her. She didn't let anyone down at all, she competed hard and did her best, post-Beijing was always going to be a tough year for her as you can't always "peak", by definition you have to drop performance at certain times. She's a superstar and humble too and I know she will return.

    The mere fact the team feels there is more to come is great news. These Championships are fun but lets be honest, we'd all rather see them winning medals in 2012 with the crowd behind them. I sat and watched the horrors of Atlanta in 96 when we really struggled, there was very little to be cheerful about (in fact, that was the case for whole of GB Olympic team at that juncture!) yet here we are a decade or so later with a team to be really proud of. I just hope everyone of them gets the suppport they deserve in 2012, and in the build-up to it as on home turf I believe they will deliver some very special performances and make us all very proud. Well done to all of you!!!

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  • 7. At 11:14am on 03 Aug 2009, glennis_naylor wrote:

    When I put all suits to be banned in my previous post, I meant the performance enhancing non-textile suits! Obviously swimmers have to wear suits...

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  • 8. At 11:15am on 03 Aug 2009, andy_faz wrote:

    Nibs - what are you talking about? Britain finished third on the points table that reflects numbers and places gained in finals:

    Top 10:

    USA 820
    AUS 568
    GBR 468
    GER 340
    CHN 337
    RUS 306
    FRA 303
    JPN 303
    BRA 300
    ITA 297

    See here

    Odarrach - re: Biedermann. At the Olympics the German team sponsered by Adidas were stuck with an out-of-date poor suit and with the exception of Britta Steffen totally blown out of the water. Now Biedermann has the fastest suit available, his gains seem so sensational because he's no times in a LZR, so he's coming from even further back. I do agree that a race between Phelps and Biedermann in briefs would see a different outcome and very different times, and I too felt sad to see Thorpe's record go, but there is no denying that since the Olympics Biedermann has been the best middle distance swimmer in the world (taking down the SC 200 & 400 records before arriving in Rome), where as Phelps has had his eye of the ball since Beijing. Point being is that I think it is unfair to criticise an individual swimmer in the suit age, the farce is down to FINA alone. Furthermore Biedermann is man enough to say the suit makes the difference, which is not always the case

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  • 9. At 12:41pm on 03 Aug 2009, ShinyDavidHowell wrote:

    Good point that Biedermann has no times in an LZR - I'm really interested to see how he fares in 2010, especially with Phelps, as you say, having had 'his eye off the ball'.

    Regarding polyurethane-enhanced WRs - they should be left as their own separate bit of history, like the WRs for old specifications of the javelin.

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  • 10. At 1:45pm on 03 Aug 2009, yorkiemonsterr wrote:

    good blog :)

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  • 11. At 1:46pm on 03 Aug 2009, HarrysDisciple - 606 SOS wrote:

    Glennis - your first idea will bring a huge audience to the sport. Banning all suits will make it more popular than football!

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  • 12. At 2:08pm on 03 Aug 2009, yorkiemonsterr wrote:


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  • 13. At 2:33pm on 03 Aug 2009, Malt Loaf wrote:

    It seems like only a few years since all commentators were saying British swimming was in a right old state and now look - third best in the world. And yet people are still complaining!

    Difficult to please everyone though I suppose.

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  • 14. At 4:38pm on 03 Aug 2009, MarktheHorn wrote:

    Maybe Nibs was talking more from the side of the Mens squad in terms of lacking results apart from Tancock?

    The girls all seen to be really united and supportive of each other as a team should be and in all fairness the likes of Becky Adlington will be determined to put a disappointing race like the 800m right behind her and get back to winning ways.

    China and Russia would have more option to pick from in terms of depth I guess which will help them.

    The main thing is for futher improvement rather than going backawards at the next World Championships before 2012.

    As for the was good to see world records as that is partly what makes swimming attractive but has the mark been lowered so much that once these suits are oulawed come 2012 we won't see any.

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  • 15. At 5:08pm on 03 Aug 2009, rhjones004 wrote:

    There was quite a lot of talk about the poly suits favouring the bigger swimmers. I can understand that, from a hydrodynamic point of view, but are there any actual tests to back up this? If it is true, then the British team is likely to see a bounce up.

    A number of the swimmers commented that the others were towering over them - apart from Spoff, of course:)

    I don't really understand why our swimmers are smaller than the others. Even Japan seems to be getting bigger swimmers than ours. Is it because we don't select on physique (and others do) or is it that we don't get the bigger kids into swimming? I suspect it's because other countries actually select elite swimmers on the basis of physical attributes, not just performance, at junior level.

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  • 16. At 5:14pm on 03 Aug 2009, MarktheHorn wrote:

    Is it because they get attracted to sports which require big physique like rugby (in the boys case) ahead of swimming or as you say just because we have a different selection policy (they want the best youngsters rather than the biggest and trying to improve them more?)

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  • 17. At 5:44pm on 03 Aug 2009, tony wrote:

    Don't know where Nibs got the idea there were twice as many medals?

    In swimming there were 50 metre races for backstroke, breastroke and butterfly, 1500 for ladies and 800 for men. That's 24 isn't it?

    Doesn't make twice as many!

    Only slight disappointment is the number of 4th places (5).

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  • 18. At 5:51pm on 03 Aug 2009, 0darroch wrote:

    Andy_faz, good point about Biedermann not having any enhancing suit times before this suit - and I suppose that only reinforces my point that these suits are so obviously performance enhancing that keeping them at all is nonsensical. The farce is, I agree, FINA's handling of the whole thing. These suits should have been outlawed as soon as they came on the market. Why was there ever any doubt that they made you go faster, when every professional swimmer in the world was wearing them? My criticisms are not of Biedermann himself, but of the situation that he has made all the more obvious. Thorpe and Hacket's records in particular should still be standing.

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  • 19. At 5:58pm on 03 Aug 2009, United Dreamer wrote:

    "Anyway congratulations to Britain. You don't know how frustrating is to be Spanish and the country's media getting excited about a bunch of medals in Syncronised Swimming."

    At #3 we do - they are called Torvill and Dean (ice dancing if you're interested). Not to mention Redgrave and Pinsent forcing rowing onto our screens:(

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  • 20. At 9:21pm on 03 Aug 2009, holy-moley wrote:

    Great comment by ShinyDavidHowell, they should just leave these world records behind like they did in the javelin when it changed. I thought all the records were meaningless in this champiosips, emphasised by the rubbish British mens relay team trundling along near the back but just off world record pace.

    My stars of the championships were Pellegrini and Payne but that is probably because they are babes.

    Not quite sure how Miley and Gandy produce the times they do out of the championships but can't get close to them when it matters.

    United_Dreamer is comparing ice dancing with rowing. One is a demanding exciting sport, the other is poor entertainment with subjective scoring and not a sport. Come on UD, you can do better than that.

    A special mention for Brazil who have a novel policy of concentrating on the 50 m events. Other than freestyle they are not Olympic events so the standard is weaker. I feel sorry for Tancock that he is the best in the world at an event which isn't in the Olympics.

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  • 21. At 9:45pm on 03 Aug 2009, Sparkle wrote:

    I'm not convinced the suit saga is over and fully expect Fina to reverse their decision at some point in the run up to the London Olympics.
    Steve, what is the basis for your certitude? You seem to feel Fina are playing out some sort of charade. The hi-tech suits have completely ruined the integrity of the sport and must nver be seen again.

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  • 22. At 9:51pm on 03 Aug 2009, skier18 wrote:

    I think that miley as ot a disappointed as her 200IM set in Ponds Forge was improved bearing in mind that the 400IM is her speciality. The 400IM 4th in the world a disappointment from moving up from 6th at the olympics i dont think so yeah maybe if she swam her best a medal would have been hers ,however, this is only the 1st year in a 4year cycle come on wait till 2012. She is closing the gap on the top women all the time. Give her a chance to shine not just knock it as she was 4th and didn't medal don't be so narrow minded

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  • 23. At 10:55am on 04 Aug 2009, LtUoTwOnN wrote:

    Well done team GB. Many fantastic performances from the squad. I'm not a die hard swimming fan but I didn't miss a finals session last week. The success of the team brings in more interest from the average person and could inspire a new generation of swimmers.

    Keep up the hard hours of training boys and girls and we look forward to you giving the Aussies a real swim for their money in the Commonwealths!

    #19 You are a miserable so and so - how could you not be moved by the achievements of Redgrave and Pinsent? They were fantastic. 5 gold medals for Sir Steve. I just wonder what sort of sporting achievement actually makes you happy! The rowing was thrilling. Why can't the BBC block negative posters? Too much negativity about. Happy thoughts please.

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  • 24. At 5:13pm on 04 Aug 2009, idsellmyhouse wrote:

    Expunging suit-enhanced records is easier said then done. Most often there is no record of what suit was worn - or even how many suits were worn. Would this apply just to world records? What about national records and age group records?

    The problem goes all the down. Parents buy their kids £300 swim suits because they want their child to have every advantage or not to be disadvantaged. I've seen 12 year olds and younger, with glaring technical problems with their stroke wearing these suits.

    We berate FINA for being weak but they are just people who owe their position to politicking. What should you expect, that they won't crumble under the marketing might of Speedo and others? The manufacturers make a lot of money from selling huge quantities of these suits. That's the problem and that's why there is no easy solution.

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