SWIMNEWS ONLINE: January 1997 Magazine Articles

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Anita Lonsbrough

"Poverty Stricken Hero" was the headline in British newspapers after Paul Palmer's Olympic silver medal performance in the 400 freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics.

The poverty was a situation that Paul hoped would become history, and that upon his return home, money would come rolling in. He hoped that the days of penny-pinching for both him and his coach, Ian Turner, would be things of the past.

But three months after the Olympics, it's back to the old regime, only now Ian Turner is back to his full-time job as a teacher. Ian is one of Britain's many part-time coaches, fitting coaching around a full-time job.

Six months before the Atlanta Olympics, Ian, recognizing Paul Palmer's talent and potential for Olympic glory, took time out from teaching and became a full-time coach on a part-time salary. Both Paul and Ian acknowledged that warm-weather training was essential, so at regular intervals, they went abroad to Cypress and the United States, for weeks at a time.

The pressure and close proximity of living in each other's pockets told on both. But at the end of a long dark tunnel dangled the carrot of an Olympic medal, and what they both saw as an end to being second class citizens compared to the other successful swimmer-coach partnerships, such as Alexander Popov and Gennadi Touretski, and Danyon Loader and Duncan Lange.

Alexander Popov left Russia and followed his mentor to Australia, where Alexander lives the true life of a top professional sportsman. Compare that to Paul, who had to train in a 25-m school pool, not at times suitable for competition, but at times when the pool was not being used by the pupils.

Paul's only real financial support came from the Sports Aid Foundation, but out of this, Paul had to pay for both his and Ian's costs to the warm-weather training camps, training costs at home, and his share of living expenses at home.

Paul Palmer's near-perfect race in the Georgia Tech Pool in Atlanta is somewhat of a blur. He admits "It was the greatest moment of my life, but it seems a world away." At the time, he hoped things would change for the better when he got home. But nothing has changed, and he does admit that deep down "Perhaps I did not expect it to."

At the time, government officials promised financial assistance for sport and its competitors. But to date, none of this has come to fruition. Paul and Ian face another winter of discontent. Paul claims he has not "heard a thing from the governing body." The financial offers have not been flooding in. His only extra is a car from Rover.

Paul's criticism of the governing body does not end there. Joining the successful duo of Paul Palmer and Ian Turner was Patrick Maloney, a helicopter pilot. Patrick Maloney did not contribute trips in his helicopter, but rather, the use of a metronomic pace maker that bleeped in Paul's ear. It is a unique training partner, designed by Patrick, that helps break the monotony of a middle distance freestyle swimmer.

Full of praise for the invention, Paul admits "It's helped me enormously and I've made that clear for awhile now. So, have any efforts been made officially to supply British swimmers with this aid? None. Other countries have, but not us."

All may not be gloom and doom, for Ian is in talks with the city of Bath, where a new 50-m pool is about to be opened. The city would also provide a land training facility and full-time physiotherapist backup. About the prospect, Ian says "To say it's exciting is an understatement. I believe it could be the leading setup in the country. There's a superb 50-m pool, dedicated land training facilities, and you start with a clean blackboard." The chance of becoming involved in such a scheme has given Ian a new lease on life. If successful in his application, the setup will make a world of difference to both him and Paul.

For Ian, who described Paul's silver medal-winning swim as "the moment when all the sacrifices, the struggles, the hard work paid off," it would enable him to fulfill his coaching ambition, as he would be in total control. For Paul, now 22, it would make training so much easier. It would also mean making a drastic change to Paul's lifestyle. He would no longer be able to rely on his parents, Philip, an RAF pilot, and Fiona, for home comforts.

But whatever happens, both Paul Palmer and Ian Turner are determined that nothing will break up the successful duo, even if Paul gets fed up with hearing "don't lift your head at the turn don't breathe in the last 15 m." But Paul did not do these things in his Olympic final, for it was as natural as kicking his legs and lifting his arms.

Paul and Ian's relationship, which started when Paul was just a small boy, has generated three European junior golds, two European silvers, a world short course bronze, and the Olympic silver medal. They both hope it will culminate with gold in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

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