Rebecca Adlington's criticism should concern British Swimming

 

Rebecca Adlington may not have been able to repeat her golden achievements of Beijing in London this summer but she remains one of the country's best loved Olympians and the public face of British swimming.

So her damning comments on the review conducted by British Swimming into the state of the sport post-Olympics must be taken seriously.

More optimistically, the review also pointed out progress made in non-Olympic years and the talent coming through the ranks

Describing the process as an "absolute mess", the double gold medallist from the 2008 Games says the independent panel, which included Michael Phelps's coach Bob Bowman, failed to properly canvass the views of top swimmers - including Adlington herself.

In an exclusive interview for the BBC, she says the report's conclusions, which were made public on Sunday, failed to come up with any new explanations for the team's disappointing performance in front of an expectant home audience.

Britain's swimmers were the most high-profile flops of an otherwise successful home Games. Team GB failed to win a single gold in the pool and fell two short of their target of five to seven medals overall. Adlington, who won the 400m and 800m freestyle in Beijing, delivered two of those with bronzes over the same distances. Scotland's Michael Jamieson, a bright hope for Rio in four years' time, won silver in the 200m backstroke.

Having received over £25m of public money in the run-up to London and with a highly rated coaching team headed by Australian performance director Michael Scott and the American Dennis Pursley, hopes were high that Britain's swimmers would lead the gold rush.

It wasn't to be, however. Shortly after the Games Pursley resigned and two Saturdays ago Scott followed him out of the door - a victim of the review he ordered.

With his family based in Melbourne, Scott was unable to commit to one of the report's key findings - that the British performance director from now on lives here in the UK. What had been seen as a necessary indulgence during his previous five years in charge could no longer be tolerated once the mood changed after London.

GB swim medals 2008 and 2012

2008

Rebecca Adlington gold (400m and 800m freestyle)

David Davies silver (10km marathon)

Keri-Anne Payne silver (10km marathon)

Cassandra Patten bronze (10km marathon)

Jo Jackson bronze (400m freestyle)

Total: Six

2012

Michael Jamieson silver (200m breaststroke)

Rebecca Adlington bronze (400m and 800m freestyle)

Total: Three

The hunt is now on for a new performance director and head coach to help re-shape the sport in time for the Rio Games in 2016 but already there is growing momentum behind the appointment of a British double act.

For years now British sport has swung back and forth on the issue of foreign coaches. After the Sydney Olympics, and with sport in this country boosted by revenues from the National Lottery, it was fashionable to hire the best in the world wherever they came from.

For swimming, that is now seen as a disadvantage, with Adlington the most high-profile name calling for a home grown coach and performance director who understand the sport's culture. One example of Pursley's failure to adapt to British thinking was his use of examples from American Football as a motivational tool during team talks.

The review also highlighted the decision to hold the British Olympic trials too early and commercial and media distractions as reasons for the disappointing performance in London.

More optimistically, it also pointed out the progress made in non-Olympic years and the promising talent coming through the ranks.

David Sparkes, the chief executive of British Swimming, defended the sport's record in an interview with the BBC on Monday. But he also acknowledged he had to hold his hands up for an Olympics failure that had left him "depressed" and "shocked".

Swimming in this country may never reach the heights of rowing and cycling, whose tough, no-compromise culture has delivered remarkable results.

But despite Adlington's criticisms of the recent review process, it does seem the sport is determined to learn the lessons of what went wrong in London. With money for the Rio Games due to be decided in the coming days, it knows it is running out of second chances.