Empire strikes back

AS Britain's swimmers went from “wimps” to golden wonders at the Commonwealth Games, British swimming chief Bill Sweetenham resisted the temptation to crow. 

The controversial Australian, who was last year cleared by an inquiry of bullying British swimmers, was basking on the moral high ground after the Empire struck back in Melbourne. 

The home nations combined for 15 swimming gold medals to vindicate Sweetenham's iron-fist coaching methods following years of bitter division and under-achieving. 

England won eight golds, Scotland six and Wales picked up their first since 1974 after David Davies' victory in the 1,500m freestyle on Tuesday's final day in the pool. 

“Britain has a stockpile of talent coming through that is better than anywhere in the world,” Sweetenham said. “I never doubted what we were doing.” 

A FIRST: David Davies of Wales reacts with relief following his victory in the 1,500m freestyle final yesterday. Davies grabbed Wales’ first gold medal in the pool since 1974. – AFPpic

Britain's swimmers were described as “watery wimps” by one Australian newspaper at the start of the Games but the hosts were forced to eat humble pie after their men's team flopped badly. 

Australia's dominant women won 16 gold medals but the men finished with a single relay gold – the same total as Papua New Guinea – compared to 12 for Britain's men. 

Scotland's David Carry and Gregor Tait both won two golds while Caitlin McClatchey doubled up in the women's 200 and 400m freestyle. 

England's Chris Cook did a 50-100m breaststroke double with Simon Burnett winning the blue riband men's 100m freestyle. 

“We have got a group of swimmers who are not just satisfied with making the team any more,” said Sweetenham, who took the job on after the 2000 Olympics. “They expect to win medals.” 

After a promising 2003 World Championships, Britain took a big step backwards at the Athens Olympics and disappointed again at last year's Worlds in Montreal. 

Sweetenham's job was on the line but Britain's gold glut in Melbourne has injected a new sense of confidence into the team in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 

“In life you must have the courage of your convictions and total belief in what you are doing,” said the 55-year-old, who is under contract until Beijing. “You have to stand tall in adversity and not necessarily take the comfortable option. You have to ask people to do things they haven't done before. You all take a risk and when it pays off there is a lot of satisfaction.” 

Although stung by last year's bullying allegations, Sweetenham's 'no pain, no gain' philosophy is finally paying off for Britain's swimmers. 

“We're reaping the fruits of our long-term plan,” he said. “Tomorrow must be just another day at the office. It doesn't come easy. You have to take risks, put your life on the line.” – Reuters 

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