For Britain’s swimmers Barcelona ’03 is no more as the domestic focus moves on to other targets. Some might be glad to see the back of the 2003 World Championships but for the overwhelming majority of the 34 strong British team the 8 days of competition in the Palau St Jordi were excellent, as the squad recorded their best ever haul at a world championships with two gold, three silver and three bronze medals. We pick some of our highlights from the British performance.
It would be churlish not to select Britain’s two world champions James Gibson and Katy Sexton when considering the British swimmers of the meet. Gibson took Britain’s first long course world title for 28 years, that last gold coming courtesy of the great David Wilkie, as well as adding a bronze medal in the 100m event, posting two new Commonwealth records in the process.
While becoming a word champion is no mean feat, whatever the event, even Gibson himself is the first to acknowledge that it is the Olympic events that really count when it comes down to it and that he must concentrate on improving on the third place in the 100m for Athens next year. So Gibson’s performances were put in the shade by his Portsmouth based team mate, Sexton, who took Britain’s first ever women’s world title and in an Olympic event too, the 200m backstroke.
And what a race it was. Sexton got what has, unfortunately, become for her a trademark slow start but measured her effort throughout the race to perfection as she completed the final 50m faster than the first, sweeping through the field from 4th at the final turn to first at the finish. It was a burst that her rivals had no answer to as she touched home in a very fast Commonwealth record of 2:08.74, all the more impressive when one remembers that she had never swum below 2 minutes 11 before this year.
Inevitably in such a great all round performance from the team, there was a lot of excellent swimming from the British contingent. Steve Parry’s excellent semi-final swim of 1:55.90 for the 200m butterfly sticks in the memory as does a fantastic finishing burst from Rebecca Cooke in the closing stages of the 800m as she took almost 2 seconds out of Canadian Brittany Reimer over the last 200m to just pip her rival for the bronze medal.
But the best swim of the meet for us came from Scot Ian Edmond. He has promised much in the past but finally delivered on that promise with two excellent swims on his way to the silver medal over 200m breaststroke. For the purists the semi final swim may be the better, as he posted a new British and Commonwealth record of 2:10.69 and remove Nick Gillingham from the record books, but the swim he produced in the final, although slightly slower, had a number of attributes that made it stand out.
Edmond is now clearly at ease with how he approaches his event. As Kosuke Kitajima flew down the first 50m, the Edinburgh swimmer was not going to be deterred from his race plan, as he gradually worked his way through the field over the second half of the race. Defending champion Brendan Hansen had taken up the challenge laid down by the Japanese and suffered in the closing metres as Edmond cruised through in the final 10m, his stroke rate hardly altering as he touched home for the silver medal. A hugely mature swim from Edmond with the prospect of even more to come.
There were good surprises and bad surprises from the week’s competition as far as the Brits were concerned. On the positive side Mark Foster finally laid another of his ghosts to rest as he took his first global long course medal for the 50m freestyle. That he was even allowed to swim the event ranks as one of the bigger surprises from the week given Bill Sweetenham’s usual tough stance on such matters. But swim he did and for once everything came together at the right time for the Bath man, who produced the swim of his life to take the second podium placing behind the great Alex Popov.
On the negative side, the poor form of both Alison Sheppard and Sarah Price was a huge surprise and a big disappointment, not least for the swimmers themselves, Both ladies are hugely professional in their approach to their sport and would normally be expected to be at the top of their form at a major championship such as this. Sweetenham has since said he believes Price over trained in the build up and that Sheppard’s technique let her down under pressure, although he has no complaints to make with their attitude or application. These are both lessons to learn and in the grand scheme of things it is better that mistakes were made this year rather than in Olympic year next season. Both swimmers will be back and in all probability be better than ever as a result of the experience.