Ready for Bill and Chris’s excellent adventure

Bill Furniss
Bill Furniss. Photo GBSwimstars

The next era of British Swimming starts in earnest this week as Bill Furniss takes up his post as head coach on Tuesday with Chris Spice joining him as National Performance Director a week later. The duo, appointed in the aftermath of a review into an underwhelming performance at London 2012 have been tasked with implementing the recommendations of that review in seeking to re-invigorate Britain’s performance at the global level.

Many of these recommendations remain abstract inasmuch as they refer to generating an environment that leads to improved elite performance, but others have more direct actions associated with them. The timing of trials is already one significant change this year, but other areas slated to be addressed under the new regime include a clearer strategy for relays, dealing with the impact of social media and increasing the mentoring of coaches through on-deck presence.

But there will be some difficult decisions to be made, given the drop in UK Sport funding that the sport received as a result of its Olympic performance. Already there have been rumblings about cuts in direct funding to swimmers, notably the current status of Adam Brown, who has seen all funding removed, he says, in direct response to his decision to base himself back in the US at his Auburn alma mater. With swimmers increasingly looking to base themselves in overseas programmes, quite apart from those headed to America, Brown’s 2012 team-mate Craig Gibbons is now training in Dubai for example, this is an issue that will have to be addressed and policy made clear.

The other early hot potato will be the future of the ITC system and in particular the fate of Swansea and Stirling, both of whom have only had their status renewed until the end of the year. The latter was boosted this week by the recruitment of 100m breaststroke British Record holder Dan Sliwinksi and the return to the pool of 2012 Olympian Rob Bale, who retired after London but who has strapped on his goggles once more.

Neither should be expected to feature in the GB team this year though; Sliwinksi is still recovering from the shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Olympics, while Bale has to complete 6 months of out-of-competition drug testing before he will be eligible to compete again. The Commonwealth Games in 2014 are hence their primary aim, but whether they have an ITC to train at remains to be seen. The decision will undoubtedly be a difficult one, politically if nothing else, but resources will need to be optimised.

Furniss comes with a weighty reputation and vast experience in swimming, an area that Spice is perhaps lacking, having moved from British Basketball. It’s fair to say that not everyone in basketball was sad to see him leaving, although the timing of his appointment, with basketball having just learnt it would receive no lottery funding at all, may have coloured many people’s opinions. It will be vital that these two forge a positive working partnership, drawing on their individual strengths, if they are to be successful.

The post-Olympic review did not signal any fundamental issues with the British Swimming system, but against a background of a cut in funding, Furniss and Spice now have to put their stamp on the sport and implement the necessary tweaks to bounce back from disappointment in 2012. Certainly all British swimming followers will be hoping for an excellent adventure and that this next episode doesn’t turn into Bill and Chris’s Bogus Journey.