SWIMNEWS ONLINE: August 1996 Magazine Articles

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Anita Lonsbrough

Who will carry on Britain's tradition of world class breaststroke swimming? An era commenced back in 1972 could well have ended in Atlanta.

A silver at the Munich Olympics by David Wilkie was followed four years later with gold and silver in Montreal. There was gold in Moscow, this time by Duncan Goodhew. Adrian Moorhouse then took over with a fourth in Los Angeles, which he turned into a Seoul gold. At the same time Nick Gillingham added a silver, with bronze four years later in Barcelona.

In Atlanta, Gillingham, now 29, twice lost the bronze in the 200 breaststroke. In the race he finished behind the Hungarian pair of Norbert Rozsa and Karoly Guttler, and Andrei Korneev of Russia.

Four days later when it was announced that the Russian had been found positive with bromatan, a drug said to be both a stimulant and masking agent, Gillingham was to be awarded the bronze. The Russians appealed, claiming the drug had been used to buildup the resistance against the heat and humidity in Atlanta.

The Court of Arbitration took a week to consider things. They sought medical expertise before coming to their decision. Because there was no scientific proof that bromatan is a stimulant, Andrei Korneev was given the benefit of the doubt and reinstated as the bronze medallist.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC medical commission, said the IOC medical experts still consider bromatan as a performance-enhancing drug.

"For us it remains a stimulant and masking agent," de Merode said. "We will in the future try to prove it in a non-disputable way."

Bromatan was used by Russian cosmonauts as a psycho stimulant.

Nick Gillingham, through the British Olympic Association backed by the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain, will fight the reinstatement of Andrei Korneev.

Who will carry on the mantle in world breaststroke swimming? Can Richard Maden, the come-back man, improve enough to be considered a world force? After an absence of some two years Richard returned to the sport last autumn and produced a personal best of 1:02.51 to finish third in the B final of the 100 breaststroke.

As Britain fades in terms of world breaststroke swimming, their middle and distance freestylers could take over. Silver and bronze by Paul Palmer and Graeme Smith were Britain's total medal tally. Maybe not the total hoped for but at least it was a silver better than Barcelona.

Silver for Paul Palmer in the 400 freestyle
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Paul Palmer the 21-year-old whose career has had its highs and lows, owes his success very much to a team effort. His coach, Ian Turner, gave up his job as a school teacher to dedicate six months to help his swimmer achieve what they both knew Paul was capable of.

Palmer's Games opened with a bonus when he reached the final of the 200 freestyle. But as usual he had achieved it in the hardest way possible.

After the prelims he was tied for eighth spot with Finland's Jani Sievinen, both with a time of 1:49.05. One hour later the two had a swim-off and dead heated, this time with 1:48.89. Paul was all set for a third swim when Sievinen withdrew.

In the final Palmer was disgusted with his time of 1:49.39, finishing 8th. But it was an unexpected plus and had proved that his fitness and stamina were there for the task ahead.

A comfortable heat swim in the 400 freestyle gave Paul an ideal lane next to New Zealand's Danyon Loader, winner of the 200 freestyle. Paul made a brave bid for victory but in the end could not match Danyon's finishing speed.

Bronze medal for Graeme Smith in the 1500 freestyle
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Graeme Smith lost the silver in the 1500 freestyle to the superior finishing speed of Daniel Kowalski, AUS. After the heats these two must have thought they would be battling for gold when Kieren Perkins, the defending champion, squeezed into the final in eighth place.

Graeme's initial reaction was one of disappointment, "Twelve months ago if you had told me I would win bronze I would not have believed you, but now I am disappointed as I would have liked to have gone under 15 minutes."

Britain's 4x200 men's freestyle relay finished a creditable fifth and just a second behind the bronze medal winners from Germany. The quartet set a British record in both heats and finals. The average age of the team is 21 and if they can be kept in the sport, they could well be challenging for a medal in 2000.

The men's 4x100 medley team was unlucky to be disqualified in the heats. Had they reached the final they could have challenged Australia for the bronze.

Before the Games, on paper it should have been the men backstrokers who would take over and carry on from where the male breaststrokers had stood in the world.

First came the disappointment of Neil Willey and Martin Harris in the 100 backstroke and then in the 200 backstroke with Adam Ruckwood.

There was good news in the men's butterfly events where James Hickman set the only individual British records. In the heats of the 200 the 20-year-old had the audacity to pass the world record holder, Russia's Denis Pankratov. It helped Hickman lower his own national time to 1:58.16 and gave him the third fastest time in the prelims.

Unfortunately Hickman could not reproduce this in the final, which would have placed him fifth. He finished two places lower in 1:58.47. But as he said afterwards, beating Pankratov would be his memory of the Games and the experience gained in Atlanta would stand him in good stead for Sydney where he aims to win gold.

In the 100 butterfly Hickman was 11th after the heats. His time of 53.73 missed the final by 19/100 ths. In the B final he achieved one of his aims by bettering the British record, set by Andy Jameson in 1988 when he won the bronze in Seoul.

Hickman's time of 53.23 shaved 0.07 of the Jameson's record and gave him a tie for first with Mark Henderson of the USA.

The majority of the men's team swam well but the same cannot be said about the women. Only one swimmer, Helen Slatter in the B final of the 100 backstroke, swam a personal best.

Much had been expected from the women's freestyle relays, which went into the Games ranked fifth and yet failed to reach finals.

The only good thing was that for the first time since 1984, Britain had a finalist in a women's event. Sarah Hardcastle, a silver and bronze medallist 12 years ago in Los Angeles, finished well off in the 800 freestyle final. She was never in the race and appeared to lack stamina and preparation.

Deryk Snelling, who takes over as Director of Performance for Great Britain in October, has much to build on in the men's team whereas with the women's team, he will have much to do.

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