Was Rolph right?

Following her failure to make the 200m IM final at the Olympics Sue Rolph launched a blistering attack on the facilities available for Britain’s elite swimmers. She seemed to imply that had she had the same facilities as, for example, Ian Thorpe for the last four years, that her performance would have been much better. Indeed that potentially the performance of the entire British team would have been of a higher standard.

Few would argue that, compared to Australia and the USA, there is a major lack of quality swimming facilities in the UK and particularly 50m pools. Equally there is often great difficulty for clubs to obtain sufficient pool time from the pools that we do have and as a result enough use of existing facilities is not made. But would more 50m pools really have made a difference? Undoubtedly the standard of British swimming as a whole would be improved by better facilities, but there is more disturbing underlying trend that has been brought into sharp focus by the teams failure to win a single medal at the Olympics.

There is unfortunately a general trend for under performance by our top swimmers at major championships. Regardless of training or opportunity prior to a meet it is still, ultimately, up to the individual to replicate or improve on their best performances at a meet. Too often we see our medal hopes fail to qualify for finals, when the times achieved in trials would rank them in the top 8. Very few people would argue that our swimmers don’t train as hard as their US or Australian counterparts, but putting facilities aside, they more often approach or exceed their best when it matters.

Nerves could be a cause, but it is unfortunately a recurring problem and one would hope that sufficient thought would have been put into the team’s preparation for a sport psychologist to help our swimmers overcome them. Conversely, however, our strong showings at short course championships have proved that we can be competitive on a world stage.

But whatever the causes we should not dwell on the negatives from Sydney, but make sure we learn from them. There were good performances from our swimmers, and we should attempt to build on what was good.If our swimmers can learn form their experiences over the past week then they will be far more prepared for the intense atmosphere of Olympic competition. Hopefully, the meet will be a catalyst for an improvement in British swimming as a whole but whether that will require wholesale changes in the structure of our sport or facilities will remain to be seen.

Those comments in full

Sharon Davies interviewed Sue Rolph on BBC TV just after she had failed to make the final of the 200m IM

Sharon Davies: It looked as though you went for that.

Sue Rolph: I did but you couldn’t help but do that – I’ve got tomorrow off anyway.

SD:How do you feel about that? I know this race was very important for you.

SR: Freestyle has really started to hot up and so has the medley, I would have pretty much have had to go British Record to get to the final tomorrow. I’m a little bit disappointed but I mean it wasn’t that bad really.

SD:What else have we got to come – what do we have to look forward to?

SR: I’ve got 100m free – I think a lot of this is because of these stupid semis – a lot would have been different if it was just heats and finals and it’s very difficult to do 3 swims now.

SD:Do you find it tough as you like to swim 100’s and 200 is a long way, and now you have to swim 2 or 3 races?

SR: Yes, my 100 has been going well and 200 is my distance event…Look at the facilities [gestures towards pool]this is what Ian Thorpe trains in, I train in a 25 yard pool back home. There is no way we can be ditched about our swimming because we don’t have anywhere near as good facilities as this and I don’t care what anyone says you have to have them.

SD: You’re obviously very frustrated about this and our swimmers have gone on about it for some time; what can we do to make it better?

SR: There’s only one thing to do and that’s …we need to provide really – I know that Newcastle is supposed to be getting a 50m pool in 4 years time. What good is that to me? What good is that to anybody? It needs to be done now. It’s not privately done, it’s all by the council as well. It needs to be hurried up a bit.

Your comments

I agree that not enough has been done by the BOC and the ASA regarding psychological support. It may interest you to know that the last games that a psychologist was used was in 1992 Barcelona. I was informed that the person used was not swimming specific and therefore we did not produce results. Mental training can take like therapy, time to produce the desired effects. By giving more time and resources to swimming specific psychologists we can see real changes to performances in a matter of months. I have found that a continuing amount of involment weekly produces amazing results, from removing pain to producing times that some swimmers have only once dreamed possible. All the swimmers I have worked with have gone to become stronger individuals mentally which produces a better training environment and medals! I am at present looking for funding in this area for my Phd in Sports Psychology. I swam at national level and retired due to injury and severe ill health. I now coach and teach swimming, but also hold the position of team psychologist for City of Sunderland ASC. I am a fully registered graduate member of the British Psychological Society. Anon.

I can understand why Sue Rolph was fed up – it seems so hard to get a decent National squad after the debacle for selection which left so many swimmers wondering until 2 months before. There are hundreds of Gala A squads from hundreds of clubs who are swimming fast, technically correct strokes but apart from University of Bath there is no progression for the elite athletes. Carole Benton (Mrs.)

Perhaps the approach of your new national coach, Bill Sweetenham, from Australia, will change all this. Australia’s loss, Britain’s gain!!
From the parent of an up-and-coming Aussie swimmer who has blossomed under the care and attention of Bill Sweetenham.