British Swimming needs to make next step and keep improving, insists Manchester-based coach

By Matthew Lees

Having missed its medal target at the London 2012 Olympics, British Swimming has been criticised and questioned from both within and outside the pool.

After picking up a silver and two bronze medals at the Games, performance director Michael Scott and head coach Dennis Pursley both resigned, leading to a performance review.

However, given that at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 no medals were won in the pool, Mark McKenna, a Manchester-based coach, feels things have changed enormously.

“In Sydney, the British swimmers were just happy to qualify,” said McKenna, head coach of the University of Manchester Swimming Team.

“British Swimming has been successful in improving its fortunes since then in Athens, Beijing and London but it is now at the point it needs to make the next step.

“It is not just Britain that has improved in the past 12 years, France and Japan broke through in London making it harder to meet medal targets.”

Having missed its medal target, British Swimming called upon figures such as Michael Phelps’ former coach Bob Bowman and Thomas Lurz, the former open water swimming world champion, for their opinion.

With the review complete but with no head coach, golden girl Rebecca Adlington has labelled the situation a ‘mess’ and another unnamed swimmer commented she was fed up.

But there is an emphasis in swimming on individuals taking responsibility to look after themselves, meaning some swimmers going to Rio de Janeiro will not have a full working relationship with the head coach.

Furthermore McKenna believes the review is on the right track having moved the trials for next year’s World Championships to June, one month before the event.

“Everyone expected to get more medals at the Olympics and the coaches were excited about the chances,” added McKenna.

“The problem was getting finalists into medal positions but it is much easier to say than to do.

“Just look at Phelps who came fourth in the 400 Medley final, his first final.

“The trials in March and the Games in July created a hug gap at the end of a long four-year cycle which gave a lot of time for the media and sponsorship deals to affect training.”

With many hyping up the chances of Liam Tancock, Fran Halsall and Adlington, other foreign world-class swimmers did not get the coverage they deserved.

Tancock was the main male hope given that he is a three-time World champion in the 50m Backstroke and a former World Record holder in the event.

However what went unnoticed was the fact the 50m is not an Olympic event and he would have needed a personal best in London to get a medal in the 100m backstroke.

McKenna did admit that some things need to change with more events such as Duel in the Pool, which happened in 2009 at the Manchester Aquatics Centre, taking place.

“The likes of Liam and Rebecca know they can beat everyone so they need to race swimmers from other nations such as the French and Italians more often to give them more experience,” he said.

“Being the best in this country is like Michael Phelps being the best in his state.

“The Olympics gave British Swimming the kick it needed.

“Before the Olympics the team had its best Worlds in 2011 and a good Commonwealths before that but everyone’s four year focus is the Olympics which is why the disappointment was so great.

“If we do well next year’s Worlds and then the Commonwealths should be reported but the focus is Rio.”

Meanwhile, former Manchester United club director Maurice Watkins was this week named British Swimming chairman, and was handed the task of moving the sport away from the current negativity.

Image courtesy of British Gas Swimming, via YouTube, with thanks

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