August 11th 2008 Olympic Women’s 400m freestyle final. Gold – Rebecca Adlington, GB. Bronze – Jo Jackson, GB. The sporting record books will forever show that this was a great moment for British swimming and a glorious moment for two wonderful young swimmers.
Sadly the same books will not record that a certain Sharron Davies predicted two medals the day before the final. Pity!
Much will be said and written about this result and the girls lives, particularly Becky’s, will never quite be the same again. And all the good and the benefits that come their way will be fully deserved. To swim up to and perhaps beyond perceived potential on the very biggest stage at the biggest moment of their competitive lives is a monumental feat. Perhaps more so when you consider the field included: the world record holder, the reigning world champion and the darling of USA swimming who was tipped for a clean sweep of gold medals.
In the end Italy’s world record holder Pelligrini couldn’t live with the pace. She seemed to go as hard as she could in yesterday’s heat and finished only a whisker ahead of Adlington. It seemed to be enough to cause a re-think and different game plan – ironically one that ended up suiting both Becky and Jo. Reigning World Champion Manaudou of France blew herself out as she is prone to doing and America’s Katie Hoff missed out on another gold and came in second. The British girls swam side by side and executed a superb race. All keen swimmers out there note that Becky swam hard every last inch of the way. She literally won in those last few inches when Hoff appeared to relax a split second before touching. That 7/100ths of a second was the difference between Becky’s glory and Hoff’s despair.
And as I mentioned previously this is a new discipline for Becky and Jo. Until now they have been more at home in the 800m and 200m respectively which are still to come…..watch this space.
And if that emotional rush and adrenalin charge wasn’t enough, there was one of the greatest races I have ever seen – the Men’s 4x100m relay. The background to this was startling enough anyway. USA’s ‘B team’ which swam the heat smashed the world record (as did the Aussies who came second) and then duly gave way to the ‘A team’ today. Michael Phelps led off in a discipline he doesn’t like and doesn’t swim as an individual event – facts that didn’t stop him clocking the third fastest time in history. The man really is half fish!
However that and two further strong swims were not enough to place US first. At the last change-over they were trailing the powerful French team by most of a body length. And bringing it home for the French was the current world record holder Alain Bernard. With 20 metres to go it seemed the Phelps target of eight gold medals would have to fall one short. Remarkably and against all the odds Jason Lezak found just enough in the dying stroke to touch first. The record is still on!
Elsewhere GB swimmers continued to enjoy progress. Including Robbie Renwick who we didn’t expect to see today at all. I mentioned in the last blog that only one of our team had missed out on qualification (by 1/100th of a second). Well Robbie Renwick didn’t miss out after all. A withdrawal from the 200m freestyle handed him a semi-final spot and he promptly took full advantage by qualifying for the final. Another example of superb character and determination. He will now have the experience of contending in a Michael Phelps final.
Liam Tancock will be competing in the Men’s 100m backstroke and, though the result might already be in by the time you read this, I shall go out on a limb and say the winner will be one of eight! That might sound like I’ve parked myself firmly on the fence, but could well be a blanket finish and simply too close to call. All of which means my fellow Devonian will be right in the mix. Gemma Spofforth continues to look good and made it through to the 100m backstroke final. Hannah Miley looked happier with herself today after a solid qualifying effort in the 200m IM. Unfortunately Kirsty Balfour and Kate Haywood will not be going beyond their 100m breaststroke semi-finals. Despite this it should be noted that all our swimmers made it through to at least a semi-final which is a very healthy state of affairs.
In a single race today GB eclipsed its medal haul in Athens and there could and should be more to come. I’ve been saying for some time that we have a team of swimmers who are shaping into something exciting and impressive. I have said it may be too soon to expect too much but all indications are that it might not be long before we can pull out a chair at swimming’s high table.
GB Swimming Director Michael Scott deserves huge credit for fostering such a unified and positive atmosphere within the team and throughout its support staff. His predecessor Bill Sweetenham was someone I was reasonably outspoken about and much was carried in the press. I stand by the fact that he desperately lacked man management skills and was often a divisive influence rather that a cohesive one. However credit where it is due – he came in and gave GB swimming a serious kick up the backside and put processes, systems and facilities in place that have contributed to the strides our swimmers are making.
I genuinely care so much about our swimmers and their performances and on days like today find it hard to keep my emotions in check. It’s a constant struggle to get myself straight for interviews and pieces to camera in the wake of such great performances. You don’t get to see the hugging and all the whooping and hollering but I can promise you it happens!
I went along to watch young Tom Daley and synchro’ partner Blake Aldridge in their diving final. They came eighth but there was much to take from the experience and the performance. I spoke to both afterwards and they agreed that their synchro’ was top notch but they were let down by entry into the water on a few occasions. It must be remembered that they are already world class but are here for the experience and to build towards greater glories in coming years. Tom has had an incredible amount of attention here in this diving mad country and has coped like an old timer…in fact better than some old timers!