SHEFFIELD - Paul Palmer, the Olympic silver medallist, once again had to do it the hard way to gain selection for the European Championships, where he has won silver on the last two occasions.
The 22 year old had the same hurdles to overcome at the Olympic Trials the previous year. He had to swim the heats of the 200 freestyle and while his rivals went away to rest for the final, he was swimming the heats of the 1500 freestyle. The 1500 freestyle final was the following day, with the final of the 200 freestyle later the same day.
On the third day of competition was the 400 freestyle, with nothing on the final day of the trials. With such a difficult program for the distance swimmers, one would have hoped those who deliberated on the scheduling of the events would have arranged a more suitable program.
Not particularly aiming to swim the individual 200 freestyle at the Europeans, but wanting a place on the relay, Paul is now concentrating more on the 400 and the 1500 freestyle.
Qualifying for the shorter distance was no problem. Qualifyinf for the 1500 proved even easier - it was more like a swim-down.
Winning the 200 freestyle final was much easier than Paul could have hoped. Fourth at the half way stage, he moved steadily into second by the final turn, and snatched victory from the grasp of James Salter at the finish. His time of 1:49.85 made him the only sub-1:50 finisher. In second and third were Salter and Andrew Clayton. Fourth place went to Gavin Meadows, a member of the 4x200 free relay at the last European Championships.
Back in seventh spot was Mark Stevens, a member of the relay that finished fifth at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Problems with trying to study for exams and train at the same time had clearly affected his fitness.
The following day was the 1500 freestyle, final with Graeme Smith, the Olympic bronze medallist, out for victory. Having withdrawn from the 200 freestyle not wanting to make any mistakes or underestimating his opposition, Smith made it clear from the start that he would not be satisfied with any other spot but first.
All eyes watched the battle between Paul and Ian Wilson. Twelve months earlier, Paul had denied Ian a place on the Olympic team. Would he beat him again?
Not wanting to waste too much energy, Paul swam for second spot, only to find at the end of his 30 lengths he had missed selection for the event by 0.22 seconds with a time of 15:28.79. He admitted afterwards "that's just what I didn't want to happen."
When asked why he didn't sprint the last 50 as he clearly had a lap in hand he replied, "I didn't want to stiffen up for tomorrow's 400 freestyle." Paul will now have to swim another 1500 freestyle at Summer Nationals in July to qualify. He believes he can win a medal in this event but the unsuitable Trials program made it difficult for him and the rest of the middle and distance freestylers.
The 400 freestyle the following day saw Paul set the early pace with Graeme Smith slowly clawing his way through the field to challenge Paul in the closing sprint, failing by just 0.03 second to take victory. Paul's time of 3:51.51 was some three seconds slower than his Olympic silver medal performance.
For the past three years, James Hickman has ruled the butterfly events. But not anymore, for he has a serious contender in Stephen Parry from Liverpool.
James was concentrating on the World Short Course Championships the week after Trials, and put a brave face on his double defeat by Stephen, who is currently training and studying at Florida State University.
After his win in the 100 butterfly, where his time of 54.03 was 0.43 ahead of Hickman, Stephen said, "It was nice for once not to see his feet."
A good heat swim had Stephen dip under the two minute barrier for the first time in the 200 butterfly. He improved still further in the final with 1:59.19. He was full of praise for Hickman, who was not fully tapered while he was at the end of his.
Stephen Parry who was dropped last year from the England 98 squad because he was in the USA, gains his first senior cap after just missing out in 1996. At the Olympic Trials he was runner-up to Hickman but outside the qualifying standard, which he eventually achieved too late at Summer Nationals.
Stephen left his return to England a little late last year and felt he had not fully recovered from jet lag, but he learned from his mistake and did not make the same one again.
A car crash last November had left Karen Pickering, the 1994 Commonwealth 100 freestyle winner, with a back injury, an injury from which she had taken some time to recover. During this period she had suffered several defeats at the hands of Claire Huddart. They had been in the 200 freestyle at the National Winter Championships and in the 50, 100, and 200 at the Leeds Grand Prix.
Karen, who had also seen Susan Rolph swim close to her British 100 freestyle record, went to the trials in a more positive mood, having been able to put in a period of hard training.
In the 100 freestyle she had to settle for second best to Susan, who was far from happy with her 56.24, stating "that was slower than my Cardiff time when I was not tapered."
Susan went on to a comfortable win in the 50 freestyle and the 200 I.M., but had to share victory in the 100 butterfly with Olympic team captain, Caroline Foot, in 1:02.46.
Karen, however, did get the better of Claire Huddart in the 100 freestyle by just one tenth in 56.71, which gave her confidence for the 200 freestyle, where she set the pace with Claire close behind. Claire inched ahead at the 150 but neither had seen that Vicki Horner had been steadily moving up on the field. Three quarters of a second down with 50 to go, she eased past the duo to win in 2:02.21, a mere 4/100ths ahead of Claire, with Karen in third place a further 0.33 behind.
Former European junior team medallist Jessica Craig snatched fourth spot and a place on the relay with 2:04.59. Vicki Horner went on to complete a double in the 400 freestyle with a time of 4:18.18.
Only two British records - one senior and one junior - were established during the four days of competition. In the heats of the 100 freestyle, Nick Shackell set a new record with his 50.04. The American-based swimmer won the final in a slower time of 50.36. He said afterwards, "I went for it in the morning as I knew I would have clear water," adding, "It's about time a British swimmer went under 50 seconds," and promised "next time."
Helen Don-Duncan, the European Junior champion, lowered the British junior record for the 200 backstroke when finishing runner-up to Jo Deakins. Her time of 2:14.63 was just 0.15 behind Deakins, but 0.98 faster than her time last August.
But Helen Don-Duncan, Samantha Nesbit, and Edward Clements, who won their respective 400 I.M. races and are still eligible for this summer's European Junior Championships to be held in Glasgow, have not been selected. Instead they will compete much to the anguish of their coaches, in the senior championships.It would have been possible for them to compete in the junior event, where they are all medal prospects, and still have a gap of three weeks before the senior event.
Sarah Price, who narrowly missed Olympic selection, won the 100 backstroke in 1:03.44, 0.17 seconds away from the British record.