Australia boost to 2012 swimming bid

SUFFOLK swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn is heading Down Under after being selected for an elite two-year training programme in Australia which will prepare the cream of young British swimmers for the 2012 Olympic Games.

SUFFOLK swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn is heading Down Under after being selected for an elite two-year training programme in Australia which will prepare the cream of young British swimmers for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Chris, 16, of Bury St Edmunds, has been tracked by the top British swimming coaches for some time and was finally approached in June to be part of a 12-strong squad to train in Southport, Queensland.

Chris, who swims for the West Suffolk Swimming Club at Bury Leisure Centre, first completed an interview and training

session in Loughborough and was told his selection all depended on a good National Championship performance.


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The 100 and 200 metre backstroke specialist certainly didn't disappoint, securing two silver medals at the event in Sheffield.

The British Offshore Programme, a type of swimming scholarship, is the brainchild of British national team coach Bill Swetenham, the Australian who has caused much controversy with his alleged disciplinarian approach.

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The scheme, which is fully funded, sees young British swimmers move to the other side of the world in order to gain access to the best facilities and coaching.

Having just finished his exams at the King Edward VI school, Chris will now continue his studies at The Southport School on the Gold Coast, dubbed the Australian equivalent of Eton.

Among its former pupils are John Buchanan, current coach of the Australian Cricket team, and Wallabies' star Mat Rogers.

Chris said: “I didn't know what to say when I was offered the place, to be honest I don't think it has quite sunk in yet.

He added: “I don't think the National Championships could have gone any better. I've been competing in them for five years now and this is the first time I have taken away any medals.”

It all nearly turned out very differently for Chris however, who suffered a bad injury to the backs of his ankles back in May.

Chris's mother, who along with his father was a competitive swimmer, explained: “When Bury reopened following a fire, a boom was put across the 33 metre pool in order to separate a competitive 25 metre length.

“Unfortunately, on a tumble-turn, Chris caught his ankles on the edge of the gutter and got two very nasty cuts.

“Luckily, when the hospital found out he was a competitive swimmer they sent in a specialist surgeon who did a really good job, but he was still out for about six weeks at the height of his training.

“I think this comeback just shows Chris's sheer determination to succeed.

She added: “Obviously I'm excited for him but of course there is a little trepidation that he is going to be 13,000 miles away.

“It's like he's going to university two years early really.

“He's worked so hard and I'm chuffed to bits for him. It's nice to see that British swimming is recognising his talent considering he belongs to such a

relatively small club.”

Chris is now on a two-week rest period before he competes at the Glasgow GB games from September 7 to 11.

Head coach at West Suffolk Swimming Club, Tim Westlake said: “Between the ages of 16 and 18 is the most difficult time for any male swimmer and this is a big turning point for Chris, but if he shows commitment, dedication and desire I have no doubt he has the talent to make it.

“He will certainly be in the right environment to progress, the facilities over there are superb.”

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