By the time Britain's swim queen Rebecca Adlington announces her future plans in London on Tuesday - her retirement is expected - the 23-year-old will be free to cheer the second big watershed in British swimming this week.
News is due that her mentor since childhood, Bill Furniss, is the nation's new permanent head coach. The 56-year-old's appointment marks the first time a British coach has been be given the top job on the deck to serve alongside a performance director (news on that also due this week) in his country since a professional era dawned with lottery funding in the wake of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Furniss's elevation will go down well: it follows calls from Adlington, many coaches in Britain, the outgoing American head coach Dennis Pursley and others giving advice from the US, for a “Made in Britain” outcome to a post-London 2012 review. The question after a home Games boiled down to: why did 23 finalists at a home Games convert to just three medals and a loss of UK Sport funding? There was no one simple answer, concluded the review.
Handing responsibility for results to British staff was deemed essential, however.
With more then 30 years of international experience, Furniss has placed swimmers under his tutelage at the Nova Centurion club in Nottingham on almost every Britain team since the 1980s, Adlington the jewel in his crown, with four Olympic medals, two of them gold, a world record and world, European and Commonwealth crowns to her credit.
Before London 2012, Furniss was the frontrunner among three candidates invited to apply for a “Director of Coaching” role. An announcement due immediately after the London 2012 Games was postponed for fear of preempting the review. That came up with a new set of responsibilities split between two roles: a coach working hands-on with swimmers and coaches (Furniss); and a Director of Performance on the management side.
Michael Scott quit the performance job in November after British Swimming wanted to change the terms of a contract renewed with the Australian before the Games that allowed him to spend half his time Down Under. John Atkinson, right-hand man to former boss Bill Sweetenham and the man in charge of Britain’s successful Paralympic pool campaign, had been tipped for the performance role but last week accepted the equivalent job in Canada. Interim performance head Mark Perry is among British candidates left in the ring.
In December, Adlington lambasted the board of British Swimming and its chief executive David Sparkes for ignoring the views of swimmers. She met Sparkes with other swimmers this month to urge the board to listen more and include swimmers in the decision-making process.
Adlington had no criticism of Scott but said: "It takes time to get to know everyone and how they work. If you get someone British they know how to start their job straight away."
Furniss, creator of SwimSkills and a coach who emphasises “technique, hard work and teaching athletes self-reliance”, served as head coach for the Olympic team back in 1992 in Barcelona but the position was not permanent in those days, staff places filled for three weeks every four years at a time before the dawn of a new era. Deryk Snelling, a Brit long based in Canada, returned home for four years to serve as the first performance director for Britain. Bill Sweetenham took over from him between 2000 and 2007, his departure prompting a split in the roles of director and head coach, with Scott and Pursley leading the way from 2008 to 2012.
Furniss has been there at the helm of British swimming throughout all of those years and many before. Adlington’s endorsement of her mentor included: “We have a relationship of absolute trust and faith. He is always supportive, through thick and thin. He is there for me whatever happens.”
A version of this article appears in The Sunday Times, London, today