Last chance saloon – Stage 3 meet preview

Chris Cook - gunning for a place in Montreal Pix: Ben Duffy/

This weekend sees the final chance for Britain’s swimmers to book their places on the team for the World Championships in Montreal. This year’s Stage 3 Selection meet is being hosted by the Welsh ASA at the National Pool of Wales in Swansea and the outcome of the weekend’s swimming will determine the final makeup of the British squad making their way to Canada.

Only ten swimmers confirmed their places on the team at the Trials held in Manchester earlier this year, which leaves many spots still up for grabs. Swimmers will have to meet up with some of the toughest selection criteria to come out of the Sweetenham regime, with the qualifying times set equal to the 10th fastest time in last year’s world rankings, so we should expect some fast swimming if the team is to be increased in size.

One of the swimmers who should be heading into the meet with a great deal of confidence off the back of his recent performances in the Mare Nostrum series is City of Newcastle’s Chris Cook. Cook blazed a trail in Canet upsetting the established duo of Darren Mew and James Gibson to take gold in a time just outside that he will need to swim if he is to guarantee his place for Montreal.

He’ll have to work hard to achieve that however; Mew has secured his spot in the 100m from the trials, but 2003 bronze medallist Gibson is not yet sure of a place, having only provisionally qualified in the 50m breaststroke. should nether of them make the required standard in Swansea, it seem likely that Gibson would get the 100m swim, but Cook certainly has the potential to spoil the Loughborough man’s plans.

Britain’s other 2003 world champion, Katy Sexton, is another who has it all to do if she is to ensure she can defend her title. After a disappointing 2004 by her own standards Sexton now feels she is over the worst of her troubles and is looking to set the record straight this weekend., With long term rival Sarah Price now merely a spectator, she will be pushed by a new generation of backstrokers as she looks to record her qualifying times. On form they should pose no problems, but look for the likes of Gemma Spofforth, the 50m and 100m champion at Trials, Stephanie Proud and Lizzie Simmonds to all stake a claim. Interestingly the meet also sees Jo Fargus back seriously competing for a team place. The 2001 world bronze medallist over 200m backstroke has battled her way back from a broken leg and will be keen to regain her national squad spot.

She’ll have to get past Melanie Marshall to do so however, as the Loughborough swimmer has decided to persevere with her experiments in the 200m backstroke at this meet, having won the event at trials. She’ll need to be a bit quicker then she was in Manchester to ensure selection, but the real interest is in her sprint freestyle performances. Marshall has bounced back form her Athens disappointments and is again near the top of the world rankings. m She recently produced a 1:58.60 swim at recent a meet in the US and if she can knock just 0.3s off that she will be on the squad.

Meanwhile, yet another selection conundrum surrounds Mark Foster. The bath swimmer was significantly below form at the trials, losing his first domestic 50m freestyle race for some years and hence not qualifying at the first attempt. Having won Silver two years ago, Foster remains a medal contender on the day, but has to get himself a sot on the plane first. There’s no doubt that he has the capability to make the time, but as last year’s Olympic selection furore showed, that doesn’t always mean he will.

So will team numbers grow appreciably after this weekend? It seems unlikely. No doubt there will be other swimmers who ink themselves onto the team sheet, but the squad will be nowhere near the 34 swimmers who made the trip to Barcelona. Even Bill Sweetenham acknowledged this; “The size of the squad simply won’t compare to 2003 as we’ve lost a lot of swimmers through retirement since then” he said “This is something that was expected and it will create openings for youngsters coming through the system.” He might also have added that the qualification standards are higher this time round, but that is just a matter of course under the current regime, and whoever does make the grade should head to Montreal with high hopes of finals places at the least. Only time will tell who will take the opportunity in the last chance saloon of Swansea.