Simon Burnett, Commonwealth champion in the 100m freestyle, is out of the Olympic Games. His last hopes of qualifying for Beijing were dashed in the final of the 100m freestyle in which he finihsed third but the top four in the race did not achieve a combined time good enough to book tickets to the Games. Burnett is the biggest casualty of the week at these trials.
Burnett, based in Arizona with coach Frank Busch, finished 6th in the heats on 49.83, 0.50sec outside the target time. Only one man progressed to the final with a time over 50sec. The man at the helm, Ross Davenport, was alone in racing inside target time, on 49.12. But Davenport then went 49.70 in the final for fourth and will not therefore be able to take up his place in the solo event in Beijing unless the performance director Michael Scott uses discretionary powers. In his wake in heats, a new generation: Adam Brown, 18, coached by Chris Nesbit at The Southport School in Australia and Nick Juba at Hatfield in England, on 49.50; Benjamin Hockin, at the Swansea Performance centre, on 49.55; and Craig Gibbons, Loughborough University, on 49.66, and Christopher Fox, also based at the Southport School, on 49.75. In the final, Hockin claimed the national title in 49.63, with Brown second, on 49.64, and Burnett this in 49.65. The addition left them 0.09sec shy of the time they needed to achieve to form an Olympic quartet.
Earlier in the meet, Burnett had clocked his second and third-fastest ever 50m sprints, 22.38 and 22.39, outside the 22.35 target, while his 200m freestyle was far wide of his 1:46.59 best at 1:51.95, the 31st fastest of his career.
Burnett, who was happy to talk about his troubles at what was undoubtedly a low moment for him, is searching for answers in a muddy sea. 'These past two years have been extremely difficult for me. It's been like a continual spiral downwards with the occasional ray of hope. There have been some huge lows. I've been really struggling with trying to find out what's gone wrong. What's changed?' asked the sprinter.
'I find one thing and I think 'that's it' and I change it, and then I go worse again. The most frustrating thing is not being able to figure out what's going wrong. It's like waking up in the morning and not being able to walk straight. So you work out its your hips that are out of line so you change that, and then you find that makes it even worse. You go 'what's the deal'? and with every step it gets worse.'
Burnett had had a great start to the season last year and had put in some of his best work ever, he said, while based back in Britain at Loughborough University over the festive season. But when he returned to Arizona, he said, 'I hit a brick wall and no matter what I did, no matter how much I rested to help recovery, I was dead. Since January, I've felt terrible in the water. I though that by resting and just swimming it out I'd be able to perform at this meet.'
Bob Pay, Burnett's coach in Britain believes that Burnett has a problem with conditioning. That view is shared by other British coaches and observers but Burnett is not convinced and is clearly looking for other explanations. He can run five miles in 32 minutes, he points out. A fit man. But then there's swimming fitness.
'I would argue with anybody who says I don't work hard. Anyone who has seen me work in training knows that. It's frustrating to put all that effort in and come away with nothing. I wonder if I've not allowed my body to recover enough in training.'
As far as wanting to qualify for the relay, he said he would 'love to be a part of this team and be there if I deserve the sport', adding: 'Every swimmer has a breakout meet and I feel that this meet is British Swimming's breakout meet. It's been fantastic.' Burnett said that he did not want to 'just be there' in Beijing. He would wish to go there to make a serious contribution to a serious team. Now, he will sit home and watch the Games on the small screen.
Burnett thinks a lot about his circumstance and the difficulties he is facing. Thinks too much, perhaps? 'You can overthink anything, of course,' he said. 'I find i have that problem.' Pay has pointed out to Burnett that his whole life is swimming and nothing but swimming. 'He said 'it'll drive you crazy'. A graduate, Burnett no longer has school work to distract him. 'Yes, I'm sure I overthink ... someone says don't think about sausages, so you think sausages, sausages. Tell someone not to think about something and they think more about it.'
Understandably, Burnett has been wedded to the Arizona programme in which he has grown and which has been so supportive of him, but he acknowledges that his remoteness from the British programme has caused difficulties from time to time.
Perhaps Burnett is staring a big decision in the face, one in which he may need to think one more thought in a galaxy of thinking:is a change is as good as a rest?