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While the swimming superpowers the US and Australia sort out their little differences in the pool, the British swimmers are engaged in a lower-key but no less serious enterprise in Athens this week.

That is to restore some pride and self-worth after the unmitigated disaster of Sydney - not a single medal, for the first time in Olympic history.

Elite performance director Bill Sweetenham's tough-love regime can already claim a modicum of success. Six of the squad reached finals on Sunday, one more than during the whole of the programme four years ago. But the medal tally remains stuck on nil, which is disappointing given that more had been expected, particularly from the breaststrokers.

With the spectres of David Wilkie and Duncan Goodhew, winners in 1976 and 1980, lurking in the historical mists, Darren Mew, who has come on hugely this year, and James Gibson looked to be in with a bronze medal chance in the 100m breaststroke.

But even with their team-mates roaring them on from the stands, they could do no better than sixth and seventh behind the upset victory of Kosuke Katijima of Japan, who beat the American world record-holder Brendan Hansen. Katijima won in 1min 00.08sec, and while Gibson improved his heat time marginally, to finish in 1:01.36, Mew could only manage 1:01.66. He had no excuses, if his opening remark was anything to go by: “Tonight the bullshit stopped.

I wasn't nervous, just a little bit excited. Maybe I could have gone harder in the first 50 metres.”

Rebecca Cooke improved her chances in her specialist event, the 800m, later this week by reaching the 400m freestyle final. In doing so, she took an unprecedented second and a half off her best time. Sarah Price's demise in the 100m backstroke semi-finals can be explained by a leg gashed on a camera track in the warm-up pool.

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