While their senior counterparts battle for medals in Barcelona, a team of 16 British junior swimmers are about to take their first steps on the Olympic ladder, as they undergo their final preparations for the 2003 European Youth Olympics, which start on the 28th July.
The swimmers are part of the multi-sport Great Britain team that will travel to Paris to compete in the biannual event, which encompasses ten sports and is open to 13 and 14 year old girls and 15 and 16 year old boys. In the past the event has proven to be an ideal starting point for future champions, with 100m freestyle world record holder Pieter van den Hoogenband counted amongst previous competitors, while eight members of the 2001 team have since graduated to the squad that will compete in this summer’s European Junior Championships in Glasgow.
The event will provide these young swimmers with invaluable experience of living as part of a larger team in a games village and all of the attendant accreditation and security procedures that accompany such a situation. This provides an ideal learning experience for future international competitions and the chance to race at a high class facility, the Georges Vallerey pool., which hosts the Paris round of the FINA world cup.
The British squad has a strong look to it with no fewer than 5 British Junior Record holders included in the shape of Chris Alderton, Scott Houston, Mark Branch, Michael Rock and Simon Le Couillard.
National Youth Coach John Atkinson is hopeful of an improvement on the performance two years ago, when the team scooped 10 medals.
Durham Aquatics distance specialist Alderton, who impressed at the recent Scottish Nationals where he took the 1500m title, enters the competition as the top ranked swimmer over that distance. He shares that top billing with Bath’s Stacey Tadd who goes to the competition as the top swimmer in the 200m breaststroke event.
But rankings are scarce for the youth swimmers and Atkinson is under no illusions of the task that the team face, particularly the challenge that will emerge form Russia Germany and Italy who took the top three spots ahead of Britain last time around.