Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wales and the Water by Robert James

Robert James is Chief Executive of Swim Wales and a Board Member of British Swimming.
Here he talks through Welsh performances in the Olympic pool and his hopes for the future.

Once again, the Olympic swimming has produced one of the toughest competitions of the Games. We have seen a mix of established stars, and some remarkable young talent, pick up medals and it is clear that swimming is at a standard above what we have seen in the past.
Make no mistake, this British Swimming squad was strong and it was a battle for our five Welsh swimmers to win a place to swim in London.
And I was encouraged by the performances we have seen.
Jemma Lowe finished sixth in the 200m butterfly final - an event in which she finished ninth in Beijing in 2008. Jemma is a gutsy performer who is proving consistent on the World stage.
Georgia Davies produced a personal best morning swim and qualified sixth fastest overall in the heats in the 100m backstroke. In the semi-final, after putting so much effort into the heats, she was unable to replicate the time and make the final. It was Georgia’s first Olympics and she will benefit greatly from the experience. Her heat time showed the improvements she is making as she looks towards future meets.
Ieuan Lloyd, just 19 and also at his first Olympics, swam the fastest leg for the British 4x200m relay team when they finished their final in sixth place.
Marco Loughran is another who has got valuable Games experience as we look at how we can improve on our four medals won in Delhi when the Commonwealth Game comes to Glasgow in 2014.
And finally David Davies. David is one of Wales’ greatest ever Olympians and has been mixing with the World’s best distance swimmers throughout his career.  A third Olympic medal was just a bridge too far, but we all appreciate the work and dedication he has put in and it was an honour to watch him swim at a home Games in London.
Now the major focus for us at Swim Wales is preparing and planning for Glasgow in two years’ time. In Delhi we were Team Wales’ most decorated sport and we want to win medals again. Everyone is back at the beginning of September and we’re straight into the hard work again.
The swimmers mentioned above will have big hopes after their London 2012 experience.
There are also swimmers like Jazz Carlin, a double medallist in Delhi, who has fought hard with illness recently and just missed out on a place in London, who will be looking to peak again in Scotland.
We have some great young talent coming through.
At the Commonwealth Youth Games last year we won nine swimming medals, including a big haul for Ieuan Lloyd that highlighted his growing potential. We also have a strong young men’s relay squad who took gold.
Fifteen year-old Chloe Tutton recently won two medals at the European Junior Championships in Belgium.

The structure for identifying talent is growing all the time. We recently had 4,000 entries for our Summer Nationals – our highest ever.
Away from the elite level, we are working hard on all other aspects of swimming in Wales.
We know that positive experiences at an early age through school swimming or at a local swimming pool will encourage young people to want to swim more.
With our partners we are working hard on new resources, technology and marketing to make swimming and learn-to-swim a consistent model across Wales.
Currently around 63% of children in Wales can swim by the age of 11, just under 11,000 swimmers are a member of a swimming club and just under 4 million social participation swims take place in the country each year.
But we want every child to be a swimmer by 2020, 100,000 aquatic members by 2020, and 6.5 million social participation swims by 2014.
It’s all about trying to engage better and make swimming as fun and appealing as possible. As a governing body we have to use things like technology and keep up with social and cultural trends. A new online tool for young people and families to chart their learn-to-swim progress is one thing on the horizon.
Currently there are around 80 swimming clubs in Wales with 65 being development clubs for competition, and other forms aquatics such as water polo, while for the more gifted swimmers Swim Wales has 10 performance clubs working to maximise potential at Commonwealth or Olympic level.
It’s our job to make sure that those opportunities are available to all young people in Wales. We want clubs to work together with local authorities and private providers so that those different stages are available for young swimmers to move along.
I’m looking forward to seeing how our Paralympic swimmers perform in just a few weeks’ time. They have won medals in the past and we now have a chance to cement our reputation in disability swimming. We will talk more about disability swimming developments in the coming weeks.
See the new Swim Wales website