Biz Price’s appointment has proved inspirational as the nine-strong squad prepares to compete in the team event for the first time.
SIR Clive Woodward knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful – he even wrote a book called Winning.
So those who snigger and giggle at the mention of synchronised swimming should probably not do so around the Rugby World Cup winning coach, now charged with assisting prepare Britain’s athletes for the London 2012 Olympics.
Woodward, raised on the rough and tumble of the rugby pitch, is a passionate admirer of the British synchro squad, he knows few athletes on Team GB this summer work harder and few coaches have had a bigger impact than Biz Price.
Those who worry about ‘plastic Brits’ should spend some time observing Price at work on the pool deck, she’s a Canadian with total and unwavering commitment to the British cause this summer.
Price was appointed seven years ago, charged with making the nation competitive at their home Olympics. She inherited a team that, while talented, lacked the basic requirements of success at the highest level.
Overnight the culture changed, a punishing 45-hour a week training schedule was introduced, a high performance centre was established and young talent was promptly promoted.
Price is an unashamed perfectionist and an unapologetic taskmaster and her appointment has proved inspirational.
So she can rightly look on with pride after naming a nine-strong London 2012 squad, at which Great Britain will compete in the team event for the first time, while Jenna Randall and Olivia Federici will make their second Olympic appearance in the duet.
More encouraging, the oldest athlete in the squad is just 24 while the youngest has only just turned 18. Great Britain are the fastest improving team in a sport where climbing the ladder is notoriously difficult and Price is the chief architect of that success.
“This is just the beginning of a long-term process,” she said, after the British Olympic Association formally revealed her team members.
“We are obviously thinking about London 2012 but we are also looking ahead to 2016 and there are athletes in this group that could be around in 2020 as well.
“I didn’t want to take this job unless we were going to be competitive. I didn’t want my role to be just to make sure that we were not an embarrassment at London 2012, that has never been my focus. We’ve have instilled that competitive spirit in the athletes from my very first day.
“Our training schedule is unremitting and it’s pretty horrible what we put them through but we know it pays and if you want to move on in this sport you’ve got to put the hours in.
“When I arrived the athletes had the basis of some technical skills. There was talent but their physical development was nil. We’ve worked very hard on that since that day.
“We’ve added technical and artistic work, because this sport involves all three, but we are only halfway there on the technical side and quarter of where we need to be artistically, we’ve still got a long way to go. Our rivals have been doing this 20 years, we’ve been only five years at this top level.
“The expectations for the team are top six but it’s tough in judged sport. The duet would love to be in the top six but are ranked eighth in the world and anything above that would be fabulous.”
Price has been working closely with Robin Cousins, who won figure skating gold in 1980 and was appointed synchronised swimming’s ambassador by the British Olympic Association.
Cousins has thrown himself into the role, becoming a regular at the team’s Aldershot training headquarters, advising them on music and even ways of transferring ice skating lift skills into the pool.
“Robin has a very artistic eye and I really need that assistance. He’s been able to add so much just being around our programme. If he doesn’t get it I know the judges won’t get it either,” adds Price.
Synchronised swimming tickets were among the first to sell out last year and Price hopes the profile of the Games will encourage more girls to take up the sport, even if that means committing to an energy-sapping 45-hours a week, six-day a week training programme at the highest level.
Great Britain have qualified for the team event as hosts but next time around must take their place by right – and with only eight nations involved, Price knows she needs to deepen her talent pool.
“There are just not enough athletes taking part in this sport in the UK,” she said.
“In Italy they had 900 competitors in one event recently and here we are lucky to get 60. There has been huge work done to increase the numbers in the last five years and we still need to double them, so we know the importance of the Olympics in raising the profile of the sport.
“We know our standard is very close. We would not have qualified automatically but we not far off and by 2016 we are confident that we can be qualifying of our own right and starting to really challenge.”
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