Sheffield pool wins support from GB swimming

The future of top-class aquatics events in Sheffield is safe after British Swimming yesterday gave Ponds Forge its full support in the wake of the pool being branded “too fast” by the country’s top coach.

Ponds Forge, Sheffield
Ponds Forge, Sheffield

The governing body says that six national events will take place at Ponds Forge in 2014, including the British Diving Championships and four age-group swimming championships.

British Swimming head coach Bill Furniss cast a shadow over the future of one of the city’s most iconic sporting facilities when he cited it as the reason for the programme’s latest failure at the World Championships in Barcelona.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Britain’s swimmers managed only one medal last week – Fran Halsall’s bronze in the 50m freestyle on the final night – which represented a further step back from last summer’s below-par showing at London 2012.

In defending the team’s performance, in which Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson swam quicker at the trials in Sheffield than he did in the finals in Barcelona, Furniss said swimmers had become too “comfortable” with the surroundings at Ponds Forge.

“Sheffield is a problem,” said Furniss. “I don’t want trials there. In the future we will question that. I would rather use slower pools.

“It is a fast pool and the other thing you have got to realise is that it’s not just a fast pool at that meet. These guys swim there all the way through their career.

“They start in the national age groups and they go to national youths and then they swim senior nationals – they are probably swimming there three or four times a year and they do it for seven, eight, nine years.

“So it’s very comfortable and we need to move that. I’m not going to say we won’t have any meets in Sheffield. But I think as a selection venue in future we will question that.”

Next year’s British Championships are likely to be held in Glasgow with Sheffield’s future on a rota including Manchester and London yet to be decided.

Olympic medallist turned pundit Steve Parry waded in to the argument when he tried to explain Furniss’s comments.

He said: “Most people don’t spend their lives in competitive swimming so to hear of a fast pool does sound daft but it’s proved to be very fast.

“Ponds Forge seems to have the perfect depth of three metres because it’s all to do with the resistance in the water and also there’s the consistency of the water.

“Because it’s got ozone and oxygen in it, it’s very buoyant so that allows people to swim faster as well.

“It’s very efficient the way it takes the ripples out of the water, the wave lines they use. That gets rid of all the ripples in the water once the swimmers have passed it’s nice and smooth coming back. It’s subtle stuff but it does make a big difference. I think the biggest thing is psychologically people know that people swim faster and if people think they are going to swim faster then invariably they do.”

The negative waves prompted fears that Ponds Forge – opened in 1991 ahead of the World Student Games – would go the same way as Don Valley Stadium, which is to close in October.

But British Swimming yesterday sought to clarify Furniss’s comments and pledged its commitment to elite sport at Ponds Forge.

Furniss said: “We need to push our swimmers if we want to make performance improvements and take them out of their comfort zone, especially in the run up to Rio 2016.

“We need to make racing tougher for them but they are very comfortable racing at Ponds Forge.

“All swimmers have raced there regularly and have done so for most of their swimming careers.

“Whilst we will look to move the trials to other venues for the next year or so, we will still consider Ponds Forge for other major domestic events there such as national age groups and youths during that time.”

The programme at Ponds Forge for next year includes the British Diving Championships, synchronised swimming championships, ASA national masters and senior age group championships, national age and youth championships, the ASA national championships and the county team championships.

Those events combined are estimated to be worth £8m for the local economy through hotel stays and visitor spend.

For their part, Ponds Forge are not unduly concerned.

Richard Apps, general manager of Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, said: “Ponds Forge, has repeatedly shown that it is capable of hosting world-class events at elite and grassroots levels.

“We are delighted British Swimming has shown its commitment to Ponds with the announcement of these events which not only attract competitors from across the country, but also spectators.

“We have a long standing and successful relationship with British Swimming and this news means we can continue to offer world class, competitive swimming from the city of Sheffield to the British public.”

How swimming went backwards

2009 World Championships In the final year of the controversial polyurethane suits, all manner of world records were broken and Great Britain enjoyed a stellar meet with nine medals in total – four of them gold – and a sixth-place finish on the medal table.

Northallerton’s Jo Jackson won three medals, having broken the 400m freestyle world record at the trials in Sheffield, while Gemma Spofforth won 100m backstroke gold in a world-record time.

2011 World Championships Rebecca Adlington returned to form with a gold and a silver but they were two of five as Britain failed to match the standards set two years earlier in Rome.

2012 Olympics 
UK Sport set the British Swimming team a target of five medals in the pool and open water events, one fewer than they achieved in Beijing. They managed three, two bronze medals by Adlington and the silver won by Michael Jamieson in the breaststroke. They were the worst performing major sport and suffered a cut in funding for the next Olympic cycle.

2013 World Championships A tougher trials process meant a more streamlined team but Britain won only one medal in eight days of competition. As in London, there were a lot of fourth- and fifth-place finishes, but it was another disappointing meet.