Water Cube, Beijing

After the excitement in the pool on Magic Monday, we were hoping that British swimmers could keep the momentum going and provide us with more swims to cheer about.

Whilst there were no medals to add to the collection, there was still plenty for us to smile about - and three more world records.

I've got some theories on why so many are tumbling, which I'll come onto in a bit.

But first a bit more on today. The highlight for me was the 100m backstroke final, which saw Natalie Coughlin, the 2004 Olympic Champion, retain her title and relegate the world-record holder Kirsty Coventry into silver.

An emotional Coughlin collected her medal with her lip still bleeding where she had bitten it during the race to distract her from the pain she was feeling in her legs.

Whilst I had felt that Britain's Gemma Spofforth had an outside chance of a medal in this event, she herself had other ideas...

Gemma Spofforth

She touched in 4th place in a British, Commonwealth, and European record time of 59.38, just four 100ths of a second behind Margaret Hoelzer of the USA.

Gemma wasn't just disappointed to have missed the bronze medal, she was disappointed not to have won the race. She had wanted the gold medal and had hoped to go under 59 seconds, which would have been enough to win.

Despite the American accent the Sussex-born 20-year-old has acquired since moving to Florida to train, it was refreshing to hear a British swimmer talk openly about setting a goal to win and that the records and personal-best time she set were not enough to satisfy her.

With an attitude like this, I have no doubt that this is only the start for Gemma.

After six sessions of racing, we have already witnessed an extraordinary 10 world records. Is it all to do with the new suits, is it the pool, or is it something else?

Well, it's a combination.

The swimwear changes in technology have certainly had a huge impact on the sport this year and the Water Cube definitely boasts a pool to rival any other in the world, with all the ingredients necessary to make it fast.

It has extra lanes outside of the eight used for racing; a depth of three metres which helps stop the waves the swimmers create bouncing back up from the bottom of the pool; and lane ropes which dissipate the waves travelling sideways.

The main reason, though, for the fast times is that unlike a lot of sports swimmers train to perform at their peak only once or twice a year.

On the track, athletes compete at a high level throughout the season and generally run
fastest when they don't have rounds to go through.

In field and jumping events, the athletes rely on conditions and favour warmer climates and no wind.

In the pool, however, it's all about getting it right at one meet, maybe two if they have to go through a selection trials. So records set outside of the major championships are more of a surprise.

The swimmers work with their coach to fine tune their preparation so that they can peak on a specific day, the day of their main race. It is slightly different for Michael Phelps, though. He has an eight-event window to work to!

As a former 200m freestyler, I've been particularly looking forward to this event at these Games, and Caitlin McClatchey kept hopes alive of another GB medal when qualifying for the final.

More importantly, though, with Caitlin breaking 1.57 for the first time in the heats the 4x200m freestyle relay has become more than just a medal chance.

USA came to Beijing as clear favourites but the GB quartet will include our Olympic medallists Rebecca Adlington and Jo Jackson as well as Caitlin.

The fight for 4th spot will be interesting.

The coaches may decide to rest two or three of the girls in the heats and allow the likes of Mel Marshall, Hannah Miley and Francesca Halsall to swim off for the final spot.

Ellen Gandy and Julia Beckett may also fancy their chances and so a swim-off after the session would not be a surprise. The teams are allowed to use the pool to do this after the official racing is over. The times also count as official, too.

One thing is for sure... when a gold medal is at stake for these girls, the battle will be fierce.

Karen Pickering is a former World and Commonwealth swimming champion and BBC Radio 5 Live’s swimming expert. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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