Better late than never, as they say; 2004 may be only a memory, but there is still the need to select pullbuoy’s British swimmers of the year for last year. It was a year of mixed fortunes from Britain’s swimmers, with the highs of the Olympic trials not translating into an avalanche of medals in Athens, but there were still many notable performances along the way.
Unsurprisingly then, those who performed best at the Olympics were rewarded with your votes. In the Men’s poll it was Britain’s two bronze medallists who were battling it out for most of the way, but they were strongly challenged by Simon Burnett, another Athens success story, who eventually ousted David Davies for second place, but who just failed to catch the eventual winner. Surprisingly, James Goddard, 4th in the 200m backstroke in Athens, didn’t feature in the running at all.
In the ladies poll, the perennially popular Sarah Price looked at one point that she would take the crown for the third time, but her challenge just ran out of steam at the end. There was also a surprising late burst form Kerri-Anne Payne, but it was only good enough to get her into the top 3. Beyond those three it was wide open with 16 different swimmers receiving votes. It was interesting to see young Elizabeth Simmonds, a real star of the future, already featuring heavily in the votes received, while Alison Sheppard received a boost to her tally when she announced her retirement.
So without further ado here are the winners as voted for by you.
There can have been few more popular British winners of a medal in Athens than Steve Parry. The big man from Liverpool has been around on the international stage for quite a few years now and over the past two seasons has been gradually working himself into contention for just such an achievement, with a fourth place and Commonwealth record at last year’s world championships. He did, however, keep everyone on the edge of their seats in Athens as he took the swimming team’s first medal since Atlanta in 1996 and it was almost certainly that medal that propelled him to his second pullbuoy swimmer of the year title.
What was perhaps equally as memorable as that success though was Steve’s semi final performance. Having scraped through from the heats in 16th place there was a nagging doubt that this could be another medal hope gone begging, but there was never a chance of that. Steve took the race by the scruff of the neck, setting his first Commonwealth record of the meet, and promptly touched out US superstar Michael Phelps to qualify fastest for the final. It was a swim that undoubtedly gave Steve the confidence that he could win a medal and that was exactly what he did the following night, lowering his new record again on his way to a podium place.
From there it was back down to earth with a bump, as it was for most of the team, with the short course trials in Stockport, but there was still time for one more medal as Steve picked up silver in the European Short Course championships in Vienna.
While Steve may be one of the senior British team members, his desire seems as strong as ever, and while he is still improving and swimming faster we should continue to have the pleasure of seeing him representing Britain on the world stage. This year, barring any upsets at the trials, that will be at the World Championships, and while Phelps is still the man to beat over 200m fly in Montreal, he’ll be looking over his shoulder for a certain Liverpudlian.
So 2004 perhaps wasn’t the year that Melanie Marshall would have wanted with her under par swims at the Olympics unfortunately overshadowing the huge strides forward that she made, particularly in terms of her step up to concentrate of the 200m freestyle event.
It was back in March at the British Olympic Trials that Melanie really made the world stand up and take notice. She had of course shown glimpses of what she was capable of, having set a British record in the 200m free only weeks before, but very few people can have been prepared for the performance that she unleashed at Pond’s Forge. Her wining time of 1:57.51 would have won just about every major title in the last four years and there have been few swimmers who have ever gone faster, with the time enough for a top ten place in the all time rankings. Off the back of that performance she also broke the British record for the 100m freestyle, becoming the first British lady under 55 seconds recording 54.62.
With that kind of result early in the year, expectations were undoubtedly high and the pressure on Melanie and her coach at Loughborough, Ben Titley, grew ever greater as the Olympics came nearer. Titley has since admitted he probably got training programmes wrong leading in the games, which may explain the disappointment that followed, with Mel failing to progress past the semi finals of the 200 free and scratching from the 100 free to concentrate on the relays. It wasn’t what anyone wanted but should provide valuable experience for coach and swimmer for future championships.
It can be difficult to bounce back from that kind of set back, but Mel showed great strength of character, returning home and immediately qualifying for the European Short Course championships. At that meet she took a silver in the 200 free in 1:56.36, less that a second outside her best and all the more remarkable following 7 weeks out of the water after Athens. So we should hope for a mentally tougher Marshall in 2005, and if she and Titley can learn from their Olympics experiences, then there will be every chance of medals and fast times in Montreal.