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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 08:31 GMT
Sweet success
By Sarah Holt and Simon Austin

Caitlin McClatchey is an Olympic gold medal prospect says Sharron Davies
McClatchey is an Olympic gold medal prospect, says Davies

Britain's swimmers were described as "watery wimps" by one Australian newspaper at the start of the Commonwealth Games.

Instead, it was the host nation's hopes that sank.

Admittedly, Australia dominated the women's events but, deprived of stellar talents Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, their men did not win one able-bodied individual gold.

In contrast, Britain's males won 12 individual events, with the England, Scotland and Wales teams claiming a total of 15 golds, 14 silver and nine bronze medals between them.

The Home Nations' euphoria at the end of competition at the Melbourne Aquatic Centre came in stark contrast to their mood before it.

Veteran Mark Foster had predicted a poor medal return for England, feeling they would "struggle to even make double figures in the pool".

However, the English team went on to collect eight golds, 11 silvers and four bronzes.

I've been giving the coaches advice on a daily basis, but, yes, I do stand back a little bit now
Bill Sweetenham

Not to be outdone, Scotland weighed in with their best-ever performance of six golds, three silvers and three bronze to finish third in the pool behind Australia and England, while Wales claimed one gold and two bronzes.

So why the sudden turnaround in fortunes?

BBC commentator Sharron Davies points out that the Commonwealths Games are an easier competition that the Olympics or the World Championships.

But she believes Bill Sweetenham's reformed approach played a big part in the success of the Home Nations.

England's Ross Davenport and Simon Burnett won medals in individual and relay events
England: Eight golds, 11 silvers, four bronze
Scotland: Six golds, three silvers, three bronze
Wales: One gold, two bronze

The British team chief had been accused of bullying last year, only to be cleared by an independent inquiry.

But, scarred by the incident, he agreed to change his style of coaching, adopting a less hands-on role.

"I am not going to be prepared to put myself under that sort of pressure again, I'll take a softer approach... I'll have to be genteel," he said.

According to Davies, Sweetenham's new "softly-softly" approach benefited British swimming in Melbourne.

"Bill has stepped back to allow the coaches to do their job and the swimmers have had more say, too," said the Olympic silver medallist.

"The stress has been removed and the swimmers have loved every minute of being here.

"What Bill was previously trying to do was crack a walnut with a sledgehammer."

Sweetenham agrees his less aggressive approach may have been key.

"I needed to be less challenging with the coaches and I have been less hands-on," he told BBC Sport.

"I've been giving the coaches advice on a daily basis, but, yes, I do stand back a little bit now."

Caitlin McClatchey (Sco) - 200m & 400m freestyle golds
David Carry (Sco) - 400m freestyle & medley golds
Liam Tancock (Eng) 100m backstroke gold
Rebecca Cooke (Eng) 800m freestyle gold
Simon Burnett (Eng) 100m freestyle gold & 200m silver

However, he also felt a revamped coaching structure, implemented during his reign, had played its part in British success.

"The strength of coaching has improved tremendously," said the Australian, who has brought in coaches to specialise in specific technical areas, such as speed and endurance.

"We now have a support programme for coaches which is unequalled in the world.

"The centre at Loughborough has also impacted on results and a lot of other things have come together at the right time."

It is also true that Britain's veteran swimmers - many of whom opposed Sweetenham - have been replaced by a new wave who are more receptive to the Australian's methods.

One of them is Simon Burnett, who won gold in the men's 100m freestyle, the 4x200m and silver in the 200m freestyle.

"It is great to be part of this England team," he said. "We are building a momentum as we go."

One of the biggest positives to come out of the Games is the strength in depth Britain now has, especially in the men's events
Sharron Davies

Davies also pays tribute to those swimmers who have overcome past disappointments to shine in Melbourne.

She points out that of all the individual medallists only two people were not in the underperforming Athens or World Championship squad (Scot Euan Dale and England's Terri Dunning).

"They have produced a lot of personal bests and when you compete on the world stage you have to produce your best when it counts - and they did," said Davies.

And she added: "One of the biggest positives to come out of the Games is the strength in depth Britain now has, especially in the men's events."

After winning two bronze medals at the 2004 Olympics and three bronze at the 2005 World Championships, the British performance at the Commonwealth Games was always going to come under the microscope.

The fantastic medal haul in Melbourne appears to be clear evidence that Britain is back on track.

Links to more Commonwealth Games stories


Interview: British swimming chief Bill Sweetenham

Scots swimmers in historic haul
21 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Sweetenham takes 'soft' approach
13 Mar 06 |  Swimming
Foster warns of medal shortfall
13 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Sweetenham is cleared of bullying
04 Jan 06 |  Swimming
Sweetenham agrees to role switch
13 Jan 06 |  Swimming
Sweetenham slams 'negative' media
01 Aug 05 |  Swimming


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