It will be a changing of the guard at this years World Championship Trials, with a new breed of international swimmers looking to take their place on the international squad for the trip to Montreal. With no fewer than eight of Britain’s Athens Olympians calling it a day since that meet closed, the opportunities are definitely there and the strength in depth of British swimming will be put to a stringent test in Manchester this week.
The period since Athens has seen Alison Sheppard, James Hickman, Adam Faulkner, Graeme Smith, Adrian Turner, Karen Legg, Kathryn Evans and most recently Steve Parry all hang up their goggles, so all eyes will be eagerly on their respective events to see who can take the biggest advantage.
The women’s 50m freestyle will need a big step up from the likes of Lisa Chapman and her Loughborough teammate Ros Brett if they are to reach the standards that Sheppard has set, and the world qualifying time is a tough one, so they will have their hands full booking their seat in that event. Further up the distance spectrum, Evans and Legg’s departures will open up relay squad places for the likes of Claire Windeatt and Julia Beckett, who will be looking to add their name to a group likely to consist of Mel Marshall, Brett, Chapman and veteran Karen Pickering. The performance of Marshall will be one of the most interesting aspects of this meet; how well she bounces back from her Athens disappointments will be a true test of character and an indication of her medal chances this year.
On the men’s side, with Hickman and Parry both out of the equation, the next in line for the 200m fly should be Matthews Edwards and Bowe, while Mark Lewis from Stirling has also been in good form, but all three will require significant improvements to ensure their spot on the team. In the 100m event, Todd Cooper, defending the title he won last year would appear to be a shoe in if he can repeat his trials form from 2004. Meanwhile, The absence of Turner should leave Robin Francis largely unchallenged in the medley events.
In the distance freestyles, Smith and Faulkner’s departure leave the way clear for Olympic bronze medallist David Davies, who would be expected to take the 400-1500 double, based on last years’ form. Whether he can produce a sub-15 minute 1500m in what is likely to be a solo swim will be true test of his medal credentials for Montreal. Rebecca Cooke should again dominate in the corresponding womens’s events but her battles with Joanne Jackson over 400m and Kerri-Anne Payne over 800m should be a highlight.
Elsewhere, it will be the usual story in the ladies’ backstroke events, with Sarah Price, Katy Sexton and Karen Lee battling the youthful challenge of Stephanie Proud and the hugely impressive Lizzie Simmons, the 14 year-old from Lincoln Vulcans. Any of the 5 could take the plaudits and the team places for the summer.
The men’s breaststrokers will renew their annual battle for places, with each looking to get over Athens disappointments. The qualifying time is relatively slow so there should be no problem for the likes of Mew and Gibson to get on the plane in the 100. In the ladies’ breaststroke, the question is, once again, whether Rachel Genner can convert her British record form into championship performances. if she can she will make the grade, and her first senior national team.
What’s for sure is that Britain will likely have a small squad making the trip to the championships. Bill Sweetenham has raised the bar again this year, setting qualifying times based on the 10th fastest time in the world last year. Those times will need big improvements in many events; for example the men’s 100m freestyle qualifying time is over half a second inside the British Record, and there is every possibility of many events having no British representation. It seems strange, in a rebuilding year post-Olympics, that the NPD isn’t taking the opportunity to give international experience to a new crop of swimmers, but his stated aim is Beijing in 2008 and Sweetenham is clear in how he is going to get there. Just how many swimmers will rise to the challenge will become clear this week.