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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
GB swimmers hit new heights
By Sarah Holt

Great Britain's swimmers certainly delivered at the Athens Paralympics, collecting a total of 52 medals - more than any other nation at the Games.

The squad took 16 golds, 20 silvers and 16 bronzes and only finished behind China in the swimming medal table because they won three golds less.

And the team improved on their gold tally from the Sydney Games by one even though they took a smaller squad to Greece.

The success of the disability swimming squad far exceeds that of their Olympic counterparts, who returned to Britain with just two bronze medals.

BBC Sport looks at why Britain's Paralympic swimmers - with the same facilities and less funding than the Olympic team - achieved such outstanding results.

KEY PERFORMERS

It helps to boost the gold count when athletes find their form just when it matters.

Jim Anderson was in dominant form at the Athens Paralympics
Jim Anderson came back from Sydney with no golds but returned to Paralympic action by winning all four races he entered in Athens.

The 41-year-old Scot dominated the S2 category, taking gold in the 50m backstroke, the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle.

Welsh swimmer David Roberts, who has cerebral palsy, also bagged a quartet of golds in Athens.

And the 24-year-old did it despite major surgery and having much of the early part of this year disrupted by an elbow injury.

Britain were also able to rely on plenty of their experienced swimmers in Athens.

Sascha Kindred, competing at his third Games, shrugged off the pressure to defend his pair of titles.

While his Manchester-based training partners Nyree Lewis, Sarah Bailey and Matthew Walker made solid contributions to the medal haul.

RISING STARS

Britain's swimming squad tested the principle of mixing youth with experience - and it paid off.

Out of the 34-strong team, 11 athletes were making their Paralympic debuts.

Gareth Duke's name has to come top of the list of swimmers who far exceeded expectations in Athens.

An emotional Gareth Duke receives his gold medal in Athens
The 18-year-old tore seven seconds off his personal best, setting a new Paralympic record of one minute, 29.93 seconds to grab the SB6 100m breaststroke crown.

Even Duke's coach Billy Pye admitted he did not know he could swim that fast.

Fellow debutants Fran Williamson and Anthony Stephens also drew inspiration from the Paralympic atmosphere.

Williamson collected three silvers and one bronze.

Stephens has been in devastating form all year and he may be a little disappointed to leave Athens with a silver and three bronzes.

But the 18-year-old will be motivated by his medal tally to do better in Beijing in four years time.

COACHING THE TEAM

Tim Reddish , performance director for British disability swimming, runs a tight ship.

Since taking up the position in April 2003, Reddish has set out to turn round the ethos and practice of the squad.

I wanted athletes to perform to their best, their way because I knew medals would come
Performance director for British swimming
Tim Reddish
The former Paralympic swimmer laid down training cycles for the athletes to follow and increased the number of team get-togethers.

"I believe we were the best prepared team in Athens," Reddish told BBC Sport.

"At major championships things don't always go your way. We tried to build every scenario of what could happen before we got here.

BEIJING BOUND

Britain will go to the Beijing Games in four years time seeking to again reach new standards in the swimming pool.

Fran Williamson won four medals at her first Paralympic Games
Williamson could go on to turn silver and bronze to gold in Beijing
The Athens Games has already seen a new crop of swimmers emerge who will be back aiming to improve on their performances.

A potential scheme for athletes on the fringes of the elite team is also expected to boost the squad even further by 2008.

And Reddish has already started work on ensuring the Athens achievements will be sustained.

"We need to build the platform for Beijing," said Reddish. "But we will will have to work hard to keep up with the other nations.

"We are a world class squad and sport doesn't stop after the Paralympics."




Paralympic Games 2004

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