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Britain Names Its Problem Solvers

Aug 28, 2012  - Craig Lord

British Swimming made what will surely be seen in world swimming circles as an astonishing announcement today, the appointments of a rugby expert and an excellent open water swimmer from a nation that had its worst swimming Games since 1932 designed to help it find out why British swimmers underperformed at a home Olympic Games.

The  British swimming federation announced in the wake of the London 2012 Olympic Games that its London 2012 Performance Debrief would be aided by two gurus who could help get to the heart of the problem. 

Here's their take on the two people they have called in: 

"Conor O’Shea, the former national director of the English Institute of Sport and current Director of Rugby at Harlequins, is appointed with a strong expertise and understanding of coaching as well as sport science and sport medicine.

"Thomas Lurz, a two-time Olympic marathon swimming medallist for Germany in 2008 and 2012, is also appointed and will use his vast experience to contribute to analysis of open water performance."

Fine folk in their areas of expertise, Lurz a terrific athlete and a man who likes to tell it like it is. Just what they will be able to say on the issue of why Americans swam faster in London than they did at domestic trials 32 times in the pool, while British swimmers swam slower at the Games than at their domestic trials on 40 occasions in the pool, will make fascinating reading. 

You might have thought it useful to ask folk involved in the huge success of the United States to provide some specific insight. Perhaps that will yet happen.

Meanwhile, focus has been placed on the silver won by Michael Jamieson and the two bronze medals won by Rebecca Adlington, the question "what happened to the other medal hopes?" inherent in that rate of return. The issue stretches to why so many stepped down when they should have stepped up, why so many proclaimed to be "happy" with what they had done even though they fell shy of best, in some cases, well shy of best.

No mention, so far, of what responsibility the man at the helm of 16 years of hefty funding, 1996 to 2012, will take for a truly disappointing home Games show across all five aquatic Olympic sports governed in Britain by David Sparkes, the chief executive of the world's best-publicly funded swimming federation. 

The Britain London 2012 review panel will be chaired by "independent member" of the British Swimming Management Board Craig Hunter. Currently the chef de mission for the Paralympics team in Britain, Hunter led the England Commonwealth Games team to Delhi. 

In India he said there was no problem with illness in the squad even as medical staff in charge of the sick noted, honestly and correctly and responsibly, that at least 30% of the swimmers were down with Delhi Belly. That, and not the official line of Team England, turned out to be true. Greater frankness will be called for on this occasion, saving-face exercises and diplomacy the worst enemies of getting to the truth so that genuine progress can be made.

The review includes independent elements but is not "independent", the panel is led by Michael Scott, the Britain performance director, with British Swimming stating: "The aim of the debrief is to consider the performance results at the London 2012 Olympics, to determine the reasons for below medal target performance and identify key areas for improvement for inclusion in British Swimming’s strategy for Rio and beyond. It is anticipated to conclude the London 2012 Performance Debrief by the end of October 2012."