SHEFFIELD- James Hickman, the 200 butterly world short course champion, overcame his problems of recent months to collect three titles. They could have been four but for a technical problem in the final of the 200 butterfly. He qualified for the British World Championship team, something he missed out on last summer at the European Championships when he was sick.
Just two days prior to the championships getting underway, Hickman parted company with his coach, Dave Calleja, after a long association. Hickman claims "it is purely personal and has nothing to do with his coaching."
The coach-swimmer partnership started when James was young but in recent years their relationship has often been very volatile. Hickman benefited with a gold at the European Juniors in 1993, a Commonwealth bronze in 1994, a swim in the finals at the Atlanta Olympics and the short course world title in 1997.
Hickman is full of praise for Calleja's coaching methods but feels "I have matured of late and obviously you change as you get older, and I think it is time for something different. When I return from Perth I will then consider my future."
He may be only 21, but has a wealth of experience behind him.
At these Winter Championships, Hickman bettered two British records in the individual medleys.
After missing the 200 fly in Sevilla due to illness, he wanted a fast time to move up in the rankings and to let the rest of the world know that James Hickman was still up there knocking on the door.
Hickman put all doubts about his fitness behind when he posted a 1:58.33 for the 200 fly, just 0.18 seconds short of his British record.
His joy was short-lived and turned to frustration when Ian Turner, coach at the University of Bath, lodged an appeal, because his swimmer Eddie Clements in lane three, dislodged his starting block at the start. The appeal was upheld, and the race was to be reswum. When the race would be held again took over an hour to settle. Eventually it was decided to have it as the last race on the fourth day. To Hickman's relief his time was allowed to stand for selection to the team going to Perth.
Hickman got on with his other events, winning the 100 butterfly in 53.76, another individual qualifying swim for Perth, and adding the 4x100 medley relay to the team.
Stephen Parry, a bronze medallist in the 200 fly in Sevilla, flew home from his American university team, arriving in Britain just three hours before his swim. He clearly was tired from his trip and offered no opposition to Hickman.
On the third day of the championships Hickman erased the oldest British record, Neil Cochran's 2:03.74 in the 200 IM from 1987. Hickman's time was 2:02.74.
Deryk Snelling, the Director of Performance, punched the air with delight, saying "at last we have a medley swimmer." Snelling's exuberance is not matched by Hickman. He is much more cautious. He knows he may be the best in Britain but he has a long way to go to be world class. His breaststroke is weak and if he is to become a contender, he would have to spend a lot of time working on it. His main goal remains the butterfly.
On the final day, Hickman erased the 400 IM record with a 4:22.24.
He then announced that he did not wish to swim again in the 200 butterfly. "I've won enough," he said. He'd done what he set out to do in the event the first time around and had nothing more to prove.
For his efforts, Hickman was chosen for the Alan Hime Trophy for the best male performer at the Championships. The British Swimming Writers awarded him the Pat Besford Award for Outstanding Swimming of the Championships.
Helen Don-Duncan received the best female performance award for her British record in the 200 backstroke with 2:13.82.
Helen and her coach, Ivor Tattum, had planned to break the British record but not at these championships. When rested, they are hoping the time will drop to 2:12.
Carolyn Foot, 33, the oldest competitor on the British team, erased Susan Rolph's record in the 50 butterfly with 28.16. She also won the 100 fly in 1:01.84.
200 fly specialist Margaretha Pedder improved her 100 fly to 1:02.44, finishing second.
Spots on the men's 4x200 freestyle relay were hotly contested, and Mark Stevens was determined to have one of them. He was a member of the squad in Atlanta when they finished fifth, and swam in the heats in Sevilla but was dropped from the final when the team took the gold. A much slimmer Stevens swam to a personal best in winning the 100 free in 50.66, and the 200 free in 1:50.33.
The women's 4x100 free relay will have two newcomers. Melanie Marshall, 15, earned a spot with her 57.62 and Karen Legg, 19, with her 57.97. They finished third and fourth behind Claire Huddart and veteran Karen Pickering. Huddart posted a personal best in winning the 200 free with 2:01.67.
Another fast-improving prospect is Jessica Craig, 17, finishing second in the 200 free in 2:02.15 and winning the 400 free in 4:15.70, a two second drop since the European Championships last August.
A total of 32 swimmers will represent Britain at the 1998 World Championships in Perth.
The final list of additions:
Men: James Hickman, Richard Maden, Darren Mew, Marc Spackman, and Mark Stevens
Women: Jessica Craig, Vicki Horner, Karen Legg, Melanie Marshall, and Katy Sexton
They join the 22 swimmers who earned their selection at the European Championships last August.