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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Tough-guy coach with golden touch
By Tom Fordyce

James Gibson celebrates gold in the 50m breaststroke
James Gibson celebrates gold in the 50m breaststroke

Bill Sweetenham might just be Britain's most successful Australian import since Kylie Minogue.

The 55-year old performance director of British swimming has, in three years in charge, completely revitalised the fortunes of the national squad.

The British team returned from last weekend's World Championships in Barcelona with a record-breaking haul of two gold medals, three silver and three bronzes.

To put that into context, Britain has only ever had one individual world champion in history, David Wilkie.

And in the last major competition before Sweetenham took over, the 2000 Olympics, Team GB came home without a single medal, with only four swimmers reaching individual finals.

Born: Australian Outback, 1950
Australian Coach of Year three times
Former head coach of Australian Institute of Sport
Appointed performance director of British swimming in November 2000

Even Costa Rica did better than Britain.

Sweetenham is the ultimate tough-talking, no-nonsense Aussie, a man who doesn't just ruffle feathers but turns the turkey upside down and shakes it until it sees sense.

As part of his overhaul of British swimming he has imposed a draconian training regime on the country's best, introducing 0600 swims, upping the weekly mileage to 60,000m, banning massages, body-suits and body-shaving and threatening to kick out anyone who fails to make his standards.

Mark Foster and Zoe Baker were among the big names who initially rebelled, but all soon fell into line.

Why? Because Sweetenham has a pool record that is unsurpassed in world swimming.

Katy Sexton kisses her gold medal
Sexton kisses her gold medal

Voted Australian Coach of the year on three different occasions, he has placed 63 swimmers on international teams, with 27 winning medals at Olympics and World Championships.

Yet there will never be any resting on laurels. This is a man who admits, "I'm never happy. I always want more."

His focus, even as James Gibson and Katy Sexton were taking gold in Barcelona, was on next summer's Olympics in Athens.

"Those medals will be won in the next eight months, not in 2004," he says.

"The next four months are critical. It's going to hurt like hell and I'm going to be in their faces.

"I have to take them to their breaking-point now, so that I can know their limits.

"I expect those I call to be there and to do as I ask - there can be no rest.

"The British train was on the wrong track, and I was the bully-boy who changed that."

Sweetenham might not look like the typical sports coach. Balding and podgy, he looks like more like EastEnders' character Phil Mitchell than the sort of bronzed Aussie Adonis one might expect.

But his methods work. His four-year contract ends after Athens, but the Amateur Swimming Association will be doing everything in their power to sign him up for another spell.

The next target in his sights is the lack of facilities in the UK, specifically the dearth of 50m pools and the poor access the elite swimmers have to them.

"Britain is coming from so far behind that it cannot afford to rest," he says.

Links to more Olympics 2004 stories


Sexton strikes gold
26 Jul 03  |  Sport Homepage
Gibson claims historic gold
23 Jul 03  |  Sport Homepage
Gibson can climb higher
23 Jul 03  |  Sport Homepage


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