SWIMNEWS ONLINE: April 1996 Magazine Articles

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Anita Lonsbrough

SHEFFIELD- Five national records were established at the British Olympic Trials. Twenty-eight swimmers gained a place on the team for Atlanta, a little larger than expected but with no major upsets or surprises.

The two events that caused the main interest were the men's 1500 freestyle and 100 backstroke, with three swimmers bidding for the two places. And as anyone knows, three will not go into two.

The 1500 freestyle race became three battles within one. Anyone forecasting the pattern of the race would have said that Ian Wilson, the British record-holder, Graeme Smith, the Scottish record-holder, and Paul Palmer would battle it out for the sixty lengths. But nothing was further from the truth. Ian, winner of a silver medal at the World Short Course Championships in Rio de Janeiro, had been very outspoken, wondering why Paul was stepping up in distance when the 200 m and 400 were his main events.

Once the race started to unfold, it was obvious that Graeme Smith was on for something special. Paul Palmer looked settled in just to beat Ian Wilson and achieve the necessary qualifying time, with the rest of the field challenging for the minor placings. Graeme, 19 and from Stockport, passed the 800 mark in 7:59.87, lowering both his own Scottish and Ian's British records. The question became whether he could break the magical fifteen minute barrier. The Anglo-Scot continued to plough his lonely furrow up and down the pool to finish in another British and Scottish record of 15:03.43. Paul had no difficulty keeping ahead of Ian to clinch the place for the Games.

The best results possible came in the backstroke events, with all three of Britain's world-class swimmers qualifying. Neil Willey, silver medallist at last December's World Short Course Championships, and Martin Harris, the British record-holder, gained the two slots in the 100 backstroke. Martin also clinched a place in the 200. He made Adam Ruckwood, the Commonwealth champion, work hard for his victory in the 200.

Adam Ruckwood won the 200 back in 2:00.56. For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Stockport had another swimmer with Olympic aspirations. This time it was James Hickman who, during the winter months, had rewritten the short course record book for the 100 and 200 butterfly. The twenty-year-old had already booked his place by winning the 100 butterfly in 53.96 seconds. In the morning heats he became the first British swimmer to break the two-minute barrier in the 200. His time was 1:59.72. This erased the oldest record from the book, a record that was set in 1981 by the Olympic silver-medallist, Philip Hubble. Philip, now living in Limerick, Ireland, sent James a fax congratulating him and adding "I would love to see you smash the record further." James duly obliged with a time of 1:58.50.

Just as the oldest men's British record went from the books, so did the oldest English women's record. Swimming in the 200 medley, Susan Rolph sped to a 2:16.41. This was 0.9 seconds inside the British figures set in 1986 by Jean Hill and a full second faster than the English mark held since 1980 by Sharron Davies.

Although there were no real surprises, Janine Belton and Helen Slatter may consider themselves very lucky to be going to Atlanta. Janine finished fifth in the 200 freestyle but gained her place as the 4 x 200 freestyle relay is on the same day as the 800 freestyle. It is hoped that Sarah Hardcastle, who placed second in the 200, will be in the 800 final and will not wish to swim the heats of the relay. The idea is that Janine will swim the heats and Sarah will take over for the final, should the relay qualify.

Helen Slatter, the British women's captain, had given up all hope of selection when she failed to win a place in the 400 medley and 200 butterfly. On the final day she gave it her all to surprise everyone, including herself, by winning the 100 backstroke.

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