British Swimming Faces up to Pivotal Week

Rebecca Adlington: about to hang up her goggles?

The coming week could prove to be one of the most important in the recent history of British Swimming, with two key announcements to be made. Both could have profound impacts on how the sport travels the two years to Glasgow 2014 and then on to Rio in 2016.

Undoubtedly British Swimming were hoping that their coming announcement of a new National Performance Director and head coach would be the main story of the week, but that wish was swiftly torpedoed by Rebecca Adlington calling a press conference to make a “major announcement”.

That language quickly sent speculation over her retirement soaring into the stratosphere, but the reality is that an end to her competitive swimming career is the most credible outcome. It has been reported that Adlington intends to devote herself to developing a swimming academy and attempting to get more people swimming, both worthy aims.

It’s clear that Adlington’s future in the sport has been been in a state of flux from the moment she left the 800m podium in London and embarked on a well deserved and long overdue break from the daily training grind. In her appearance on the BBC’s Superstars filmed late in 2012 she confirmed she had not recommenced full training, indicating she may bypass this year’s world championships, while she had already ruled herself out of a third Olympics. That left the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as a tantalising carrot for a farewell performance, but the prospect of that has become more remote in parallel with British Swimming’s ongoing search for a head coach.

Adlington has already stated she would be unlikely to swim with a coach other than Bill Furniss, who has guided her from a teenager through her most successful years, but the Nova Centurion supremo is widely expected to be unveiled as British Swimming’s new head coach next week. That role probably would take him away from dealing with Adlington in a day-to-day basis, only adding more fuel to the retirement rumours.

Not that the head coach search has gone completely smoothly. It’s understood that there were only four applications for the post, and only two were deemed worthy of an interview. Furniss, who has been endorsed by many high profile suppoters is expected to have gotten the nod.

Who he’ll have to work with as NPD is less clear. John Atkinson was a name linked strongly to the position, but he took on the same role with Canadian Swimming this week. It’s understood that another high profile candidate, Chris Nesbitt wasn’t interviewed and that Tim Jones, the early favourite, may opt to stay at gymnastics given their increased funding after a successful Olympic campaign.

There have been few other credible candidates discussed publicly but four were interviewed for the position and the outcome will be revealed this week.

Whoever gets the job, one of their first jobs should be to rebuild some bridges with Adlington. Relations between her and the governing body, particularly chief executive David Sparkes, have been strained of late, but Adlington remains as the public face of the sport to the majority of Britons, and cutting her adrift, even in retirement, would be a foolish move. If nothing else her worth as a mentor to up and coming athletes should not be overlooked.

Whatever the outcomes of the two big announcements this week, they will shape the sport in both the short and long terms of this Olympic cycle. Those who follow swimming in Britain will watch on with keen interest.