2002 was an interesting year for British Swimming. Following a resurgence in 2001 from the low of the 2000 Olympics, our top swimmers continued to work hard to improve their world standing under the forceful leadership of National Performance Director, Bill Sweetenham. A better than expected showing in the Commonwealth Games pool, where British swimmers took home 11 gold medals, was complemented by good performances short course at both World and European level. But who were the individuals who shone this year?
Unlike previous years, there were no runaway winners. There were two clear contenders in the women’s race, Alison Sheppard pushed hard, but had to be content with the runners up spot in the final result. Surprisingly double Commonwealth champion Rebecca Cooke didn’t really feature at all. The men’s poll was much closer, with no-one really standing head and shoulders above everyone else across the year’s swimming. It was very tight at the end with David Davies and Adam Whitehead finishing strongly in joint second, but neither gained enough votes to overhaul the early leader. So without further ado, here are those swimmers you voted as the Pullbuoy Swimmers of 2002.
If 2001 was the year that Sarah Price made her breakthrough onto the international scene, then 2002 was the year when she really made everyone stand up and take notice. A low key build up at the beginning of the year culminated in easy qualification for the Commonwealth Games team for all three of the backstroke events and it was in the Manchester pool that the Barnet swimmer really proved her class.
Being such an overwhelming favourite for a Commonwealth title in front of a partisan home crowd may have unsettled some swimmers, but Sarah outwardly at least maintained an air of complete calm. And even if the pressure was telling inwardly, it didn’t show in her performances, as she set Commonwealth and British records seemingly at will on her way to both the 100 and 200 backstroke titles. If the scheduling of the 50 backstroke had been more kind, the final of that event came just 25 minutes after the 200m final, then who knows, we might have seen only the second clean sweep of the games. Instead she and the hugely vocal support inside the Manchester Aquatics Centre had to settle for a bronze.
But it didn’t end there; another domestic clean sweep of backstroke titles, this time short course in Cambridge took her to Riesa in Germany and the European Short Course Championships. Bill Sweetenham had decreed that there would be no rest, no shaving and no bodysuits for this meet, but again it was all in a day’s work as Sarah retained her 200m backstroke title in a time only 0.5s slower than her 2001 winning effort. She also added yet another medal to her ever growing tally with 100m bronze.
So 2002 was a great success, but what should we expect for 2003? The Barcelona World Championships will prove a real acid test of all our swimmers’ Olympic ambitions, and Sarah will most probably have to swim well under 2:10 for the 200 back to be in contention for the title. Given her determination in reaching her goals to date, few would bet against her achieving something special come August.
It is unlikely that there could have been a more popular men’s winner than Steve Parry. 2001 was a difficult year for Steve, who narrowly missed out on world championship selection, so it was always going to be important for him to bounce back in 2002, something he managed to do with increasing success as the year progressed.
Like many of Britain’s top swimmers Steve sat out the World Short Course in Moscow to prepare for the spring trials. Competing there for his place on the commonwealth team, he managed to get one over on long time adversary James Hickman to win the 200m fly and comfortably gain selection for the Games. Steve came away from Manchester with a silver in the 200m fly and bronze from the 4x200m relay. Once again he outpaced Hickman over 200 fly but the knowledge that a swim close to his British record PB would probably have been enough for gold perhaps took the edge off what was a successful return to international competition.
Which brings us to the short course season and the British Championships in Cambridge. There’s little doubt that Steve was the star of that meet, winning 5 titles as he took a clean sweep of backstroke wins and added 200 and 400 medley golds to his tally. Hickman got the upper hand this time in the 200 fly, but the big man from Liverpool ensured his place on the team for the trip to Riesa.
The European Short Course Championships were an ideal way to round off the year. Steve took silver in the 200m backstroke on the opening day of competition, an event he admits to swimming purely for fun, but the best was yet to come. The 200 fly final was an astonishing race as Parry and Hickman renewed their rivalry once again. The two British swimmers left the rest of the field for dead, but neither could shake off the other coming into the final 25m. It was a mammoth effort down the last length that saw Steve touch first to take gold in a new Championship Record.
And so to 2003. The world stage over 200 fly changed a great deal in 2002 with startling performances from Michael Phelps, Tom Malchow and Franck Esposito, but with renewed confidence and a good winter’s training behind him, there’s no reason to suspect that Steve won’t challenge for medals in Barcelona. He will, though, have to be at his very best to make it onto the podium.