Australia's swim team sent a warning to state bean-counters today: cough up or watch us cop it - even to the likes of China and Britain in the pool. Australia head coach Alan Thompson said that the hosts of the 2008 and 2012 Games had invested time, money and expertise in setting up professional programmes and seeking out foreign advise on a path to progress and would be a growing threat in the pool over the coming four years.
The United States retained its No1 Superpower status with 12 titles, Michael Phelps playing a hand in 8 out of 10 of the men's victories, the others going to backstroke aces Aaron Peirsol and Ryan Lochte. Australia took second-place overall and won the women's meet, taking six golds.
"It ended up pretty close to being a two-horse race," Thompson said the Australian wrap-up team media conference. No men allowed. Only Thompson and he sat next to Lynn Bates at the helm of management. The rest of the top table were all winners of gold medals. Thompson cited the men's medley relay and a quartet that pressed the USA and took silver as cause for cheer even though the Aussie blokes were the first not to win gold at the Games since 1976. They did take four silvers and four bronzes, a tally most nations would have been delighted to be going home with. Success breeds expectation of more.
The medley relay was "very satisfying in the building phase for our guys and the next generation coming through". They were young and would be "here for years to come".
Of the 42 team swimmers, 33 will be going home with a medal in their bag. A stat not many in the world could ever have boasted. That meant that 17 coaches would also be able to list at least one Olympic medal winner on their sheet.
This was the first time that Australia had put a relay on the podium at every time of asking. "There are a lot of great things to come out of this meet. We've set the bar higher for ourselves," said Thompson. "We now have to go home and work harder to achieve our goal of being the number one swimming nation in the world."
But he gave warning that the likes of China and Britain would be tougher as time went by. China, dogged by doping scandals from the late 1980s (we know that retrospectively now) until in a few years ago, did not get close to the 12/16 world-title-type of count from Rome 1994. But on the way to Rome 2009, they boasted six medals - one gold, three silver and two bronze. An astonishing result given the weakness of their team. The Chinese said home-pool advantages were at play. Let's see what happens in Rome 2009.
Cream of China's new crop was the 1-2 finish in the 200m butterfly - Li Zige and Jiao Liuyang. Li bounced from 2:09 in 2007 to 2:07 in April and now boasts the world record, in 2:04.18. Home crowd and technology are done, if they were part of the explanation. "I think that if the Chinese keep on improving at the rate they are too, they're going to be a much greater competitor for all world swimming," Thompson said.
The 'fly champion had one FINA test in all the time she was improving at a great rate. More effort required. Much more. We trust all the Chinese performances at the Water Cube were followed by the storing of blood samples that can be tested at any time for the next eight years. We trust that was the case for all who leapt into the next generation in Beijing. There were many.
Rebecca Adlington is the toast of Britain with gold in the 400 and 800 freestyle, the latter in a world record of 8:14.10 that left no world records on the books from the last Millenium. Hail Queen Janet - you were truly fabulous. Welcome Dame Becky, as the Brits are suggesting will be the case at some stage in common with common practice when one of Her Majesty's loyal subjects keeps the world at bay twice in the Olympic arena.
Thompson pointed to the work that is turning Britain into a fighting force, stroke by stroke and gave warning that funding issues Down Under were starting to raise concern. "I know what it was like leading into Sydney (2000) and there was plenty of money around, plenty of encouragement for us to do really well in Sydney," Thompson said. "And I think we've seen the same with the Chinese here, and I can only imagine it will be the same in England leading up to London. The British funding is already very good and I would expect it to increase even more over the next four years.
"The platform that (former national performance director) Bill Sweetenham left for the British team to go on with was a great platform and I think we've started to see the results of that now."
Thompson said that, with Sweetenham's fellow Australian Michael Scott leading the programme with former U.S. national team director Dennis Pursley, Britain were now going to be "a very big competitor".
Britain's success was even greater away from the pool at the weekend: 12 golds and third place in the medals table has heralded their best Olympic performance since a time when "Rule Britannia" held sway of an empire.
A look at the record books shows Britain have never enjoyed such a golden Games since Antwerp in 1920, when they won 14. They last managed to finish as high as third in 1912 in Stockholm. The timing of the Beijing successes in cycling, rowing, swimming, sailing and gymnastics have delighted British sports officials as they prepare to host the Olympics in London in 2012.
A host of proud Olympians rightly took the plaudits for years of dedication, commitment and sheer hard work, but as the athletes and their coaches have talked in the wake of their success, a recurring theme has emerged – investment has made a huge difference.
John Steele, UK Sport’s Chief Executive, summed up the progress to-date: "What we have been witnessing out in Beijing has been a hugely professional performance by a committed set of athletes. That they have been able to deliver a series of memorable golden moments is a testament not just to them, but their support teams of coaches and specialists. With Olympic medals hard won, it is the strength and depth of the support teams that has helped our athletes deliver on their potential in the last few days.
"At the start of the Games, one of our ambitions was to achieve around 12 gold medals. That we have reached that figure already is fantastic and shows how well our athletes are performing. But this sort of success cannot happen overnight and shows the value of sustained, targeted investment and a lot of hard graft from athletes and their support teams.
"This level of support would simply not be possible without the injection of National Lottery and Government funding, delivered by UK Sport. Our cyclists, rowers and sailors are now quite simply the best in the world and with continued investment through UK Sport, there is no reason why our athletes in other sports cannot join them as we move towards London 2012."
A total of £235m has been invested in summer Olympic sports over the last four years, around £90m of which has been directed at the team in Beijing – the remainder aimed at ‘the class of 2012’, the UK’s developing athletes.
All of that said, Thompson gave a hint of the fabulous work going on back home in a programme that never sleeps: 50 of Australia's best juniors and 20 of the best coaches were on camp together during the Olympic Games, training together every day and watching the Games in between. Every gold medal won by the Dolphins was accompanied by a standing ovation and a chorus of "Australia Fair", the aspiring champs standing with the champ on the podium in Beijing to honour what's gone and to dream of what's coming.