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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 05:35 GMT 06:35 UK
Palmer backing for Sweetenham
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

If Team GB swimming coach Bill Sweetenham didn't know it already, he does now.

The British public are an impatient lot, always wanting something done yesterday, never willing to look too far ahead.

Sweetenham had his feet firmly on the ground when he insisted two medals from the Athens Games was a realistic return for his team.

So can we criticise him for serving up exactly what he pledged?

1500m bronze medallist David Davies
David Davies' bronze medal was one of the few GB successes

Some will and some already have, but not Olympic silver medallist Paul Palmer.

He insists Sweetenham has done all that has been asked for him and believes the 54-year-old Australian is the right man to resurrect British swimming.

"Bill's done a fantastic job," Palmer, 29, told the BBC Sport website.

"I'm so glad he signed his new contract before the Games rather than afterwards, when all the knives are out for him.

"Physically, I have never seen a better prepared team than we had here in Greece.

"It's just the mental toughness we are lacking."

Because of this inability to handle the big occasion, Palmer, who won silver in the 400m freestyle in Atlanta, says it is now time for British swimming to employ a sports psychologist.

Some of our swimmers may recover, some won't
Olympic silver medallist Paul Palmer

"I saw a lot of people standing on the starting block in Athens looking scared," he said.

"I admit that I used to think you had to be born with a mental toughness, but it's hard these days to be as tough as you need to be. Sometimes you need help.

"In the past it used to be seen as a weakness if you had to turn to someone, but it has worked for a lot of people.

"Golfer Ernie Els uses a psychologist and he is going great guns."

Britain won eight medals at last year's World Championships but only two in Athens, Stephen Parry and David Davies both taking home a bronze.

The big question is whether the Brits can overcome their 'Olympic phobia' and start performing well on the greatest sporting stage there is.

Palmer thinks it may be too late for some of them.

Bill Sweetenham
Took over from Deryk Snelling as British performance director on 1 November, 2000
Recently signed a new contract that will take him up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
Four times Australia's Olympic head coach; eight years as Australia's national coach; four years as Hong Kong's national head coach

"It's up to the individual," he said. "Some may recover, some won't.

"I think James Goddard will. His fourth place in the 200m backstroke will act as a spur.

"In some ways, it's almost a blessing he did miss a medal because it will motivate him to work harder."

One swimmer who Palmer believes is already tough enough to succeed at the very top is Davies.

The 19-year-old Welshman took bronze in the 1500m freestyle, finishing within striking distance of celebrated Australian Grant Hackett.

"David is a future Olympic champion," said Palmer. "I have no doubt about that."

Palmer is just as quick to name those he feels blew it in Athens as those he thinks can eventually become world-beaters.

"Katy Sexton, Melanie Marshall, James Gibson and Darren Mew all underperformed," he said. "They underperformed by a margin I fail to understand."

The United States dominated in the pool, winning 28 medals, while Australia, Japan, Holland, France and Poland also enjoyed a successful Games.

But Palmer rejects suggestions Britain may not have the natural talent to rival those countries.

"It's dumb to think that way," he said.

"Humans are humans, people are people. Talent is worldwide; it is not restricted to specific countries.

"Bill said when he took over that it was an eight-year cycle, so it's the performance in Beijing rather than Athens that we must judge him on."

After failing to win a medal in Sydney and picking up just two in Athens, there is certainly plenty of room for improvement.

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