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Making the best even better

BT PARALYMPIC WORLD CUP
Venue: Manchester Date: 25-31 May Coverage: Live coverage on BBC 2 and BBC Sport website (UK only) on Monday from 1400 BST; Athletics highlights on the BBC Sport website on Wednesday, plus text reports

Paralympic swimming champions Sascha Kindred, Ellie Simmonds and Dave Roberts

By Elizabeth Hudson

Taking charge of an already successful elite sporting programme might not seem like the toughest of jobs.

You have well-thought-out and researched plans and systems already in place, plus a pool of athletes with the potential to succeed although, in the race for medals, there is no room for complacency.

But the challenge of making a good team even better now faces new British Swimming disability performance director John Atkinson.

Atkinson, who started his new role earlier this month, is the man tasked with making one of the world's most successful Paralympic swimming nations stronger ahead of the 2012 Games.

Competitors like Ellie Simmonds, Dave Roberts, Liz Johnson and Sascha Kindred have become familiar faces thanks to their Paralympic achievements.

The team topped the standings in Athens in 2004 with 52 medals, including 16 golds, and despite finishing fourth in Beijing they were still stand-out performers with 41 medals, including 11 golds, in the face of some stiff competition.

John Atkinson
A home Paralympics will be the biggest thing for the GB team and I think it will be the most competitive ever Games

John Atkinson

The likes of the USA, Ukraine, Russia and Australia are pushing hard as the 2012 London Paralympics approaches and if they want to continue to challenge on the medal table, GB will have to raise their game to respond which means that Atkinson has a busy time ahead.

"My job is to ensure that we are best placed by London to take our share of what medals are available at the Paralympics," he told BBC Sport.

"The structures are in place, we are well prepared and I just really have to come into a programme that is already established and fine-tune where we are at in order to maximise our results.

"A home Paralympics will be the biggest thing for the GB team and I think it will be the most competitive ever Games, so in order to maximise their performance there, our swimmers have to stay focussed and do the small things well.

"Plenty of other countries are putting programmes in place and by London you may find there are more nations winning medals than before, so we have to be smarter with the athletes we have in order to continue to win our share of medals."

PARALYMPIC WORLD CUP 2010
Athletics: All events on Tuesday
Football seven-a-side: Group matches Weds-Fri, final on Saturday
Wheelchair basketball: Group matches Thurs-Sat, final on Sunday
Goalball: Demonstration match on Friday
Swimming: Trial events on Sunday, major races on Monday

Atkinson gets the first chance to see some of his squad in competitive action at the Manchester Aquatics Centre on Monday at the Paralympic World Cup.

The action in the pool forms part of the competition schedule along with athletics, wheelchair basketball and seven-a-side football for athletes with cerebral palsy.

This year's programme also features a team challenge across the four sports which sees GB take on teams from the Americas, Europe and the Rest of the World for the overall Paralympic World Cup trophy.

Eighteen members of Atkinson's squad will feature on Monday, including big names like Roberts, Simmonds, Kindred and fellow Paralympic champions Liz Johnson and Sam Hynd.

But, although it presents a good racing opportunity, the team are coming off a period heavy training, including a camp in Majorca, so are unlikely to be at peak performance.

Atkinson is more concerned with seeing how the swimmers prepare and compete, to give him an insight ahead of this year's main event, August's World Championships in Eindhoven.

Atkinson, who began his career as assistant coach at Millfield School in Somerset before moving to Australia, became British national youth coach in 2001.

In 2004 he became director of world class programmes for swimming and in 2008 took specific responsibility for the daily training and national team environments before taking on his new role.

The recent camp gave him a first chance to get to know the elite disability squad and he says he was impressed by the dedication and motivation shown by both athletes and staff.

Knowing that part of the programme is already well under control will allow him to focus on other areas - things like nutrition, lifestyle and strength and conditioning to ensure that the squad get the best from the support services on offer.

It's only natural that other countries will look to copy what we have done and try to do it better

John Atkinson

But with the success that GB has achieved, there are plenty of countries trying to learn from what they have done through the work of the likes of former performance director Tim Reddish, who has been promoted to the new role of executive director.

The World Championships will provide a good early indication for Atkinson's plans, although he is reluctant to talk about specific medal targets.

A 30-strong GB team was recently announced with plenty of experienced campaigners, while learning disability athletes are also included after the confirmation of their reintroduction to the Paralympic movement late last year.

"Although we want to maintain our share of medals at the Championships, I'll be looking closely to see how all of the swimmers have improved their times since the trials in April," he said.

"It will be a good indication of where they are in the world, although we are still two years out from the Paralympics and it is not the be-all and end-all.

"Apart from a Paralympics, the Worlds are the most important event our swimmers can compete in.

"It's only natural that other countries will look to copy what we have done and try to do it better.

"We have to look to stay one step ahead and search for that next gain that we can have and that is what I am looking at within the programme to maintain our place at the top of the tree.

"If we can keep everyone in the programme improving between now and 2012 we should do extremely well and if everyone continues to improve, a top-three finish in London is something we will be aiming for."



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see also
Paralympians earn GB swim places
21 Apr 10 |  Disability Sport
Final day joy for GB's swimmers
24 Oct 09 |  Disability Sport
Roberts fails in record medal bid
15 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport
Roberts claims 10th swimming gold
11 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport
Kindred clinches second pool gold
09 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport
Simmonds makes history with gold
08 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport
A-Z of Paralympic classification
28 Aug 08 |  Disability Sport
Disability Sport on the BBC
02 Nov 09 |  Disability Sport


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