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Bowman Helps Britain On 'Late' Tapers

Feb 8, 2013  - Craig Lord

Bob Bowman, the American coach who guided Michael Phelps to a record 18 gold and 22 Olympic medals in all, is working with British peers to soften the transition to a US-style of sudden-death trials close to the major international event of the year. 

A London 2012 review concluded that holding Olympic trials in early March five months out from the Games (and then staging top-up trials in June) had been a mistake.

Trials for the world championships in Barcelona this summer will be held in June, leaving four to five weeks between qualification and the big event. Knowledge of how the US manages to get its best back up for a second peak performance weeks after domestic trials is vital for Britain as it switches systems.

At London 2012, the majority of the US team raced faster than they had at trials to make their team - and won 16 gold among 31 medals to dominate events in the pool - while less than a fifth of all British performances at a home Games were better than season-best efforts, many racing slower in August than they had in March.

Bill Furniss, who starts as Head Coach for British Swimming in April, noted that Britain last tried late trials in 1996, when he was part-time head coach for the Britain Olympic team. The results were mixed, the number of finalists for Britain back then well down on what was achieved between 2004 and 2012. 

Furniss said: “This will be a culture change for British Swimming. Knowledge of the sport and physiology has moved on … we need to step up and keep up with the rest of the world. To some degree, it is a step in the dark for British Swimming but we need to make those changes this year, the first in the quad cycle to ensure that it is well versed by the next Olympic Games."

Bowman spent last weekend instructing 33 British coaches and 126 sports science staff on ways of dealing with two peak performances in a relatively short space of time. 

David McNulty, head coach and personal mentor to Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson at Bath, said: “The whole weekend was fantastic. Not only did we have the leading experts presenting to us but they were genuinely enthusiastic about helping British Swimming achieve its potential and gave us a wealth of information to work with, some new and some reassurances from Bowman that we were working on similar programmes to his. It was really encouraging and a positive move for us all.”

Of course, McNulty is a coach who can look back and say he handled early trials extremely well: both Jamieson and Andrew Willis set lifetime bests at trials and then stepped up again at the Games, both men finalists in the 200m breaststroke from which Jamieson emerged with silver.

The exercise with Bowman was conducted at a time when new coaches have joined the top ranks of Britain's programme, James Gibson now a sprint coach based at Loughborough.

In preparation for the new trials system, Spaniard Inigo Mujika, who worked with double Olympic silver medallist Mireia Belmonte (200m butterfly, 800m freestyle) before London 2012, was also invited to talk to British coaches about best practise for "double peak" tapering.

Furniss is already planning to review the effectiveness of the new taper systems. "After the world championships, we will do a thorough review of the new tapering system and my job will be to analyse the results and make any amendments required,” he said. “Other nations do it very well and with the assistance of Bob and Inigo, we have gained a thorough knowledge of how their trials work and how we can monitor athletes to ensure the best possible results. We are looking for a minimal risk to achieve the maximum performance output.”

Bowman and Mujika also gave the British coaches their insight into starts, turns and relay changeovers.

“This has been a very positive step forward for our coaches. They were very enthusiastic about it and had some valuable insights from world leading experts. We want our athletes and coaching teams to be the best prepared they can be and weekends such as this will give them the right tools to work within the next Olympic cycle,” said Furniss.