Maltese swimmers up to the challenge - Colbourn
Angela Galea's achievement in Andorra was a major fillip for the Aquatic Sports Association (ASA). In the previous ten editions of the Games, the Maltese had struggled to make their mark in the pool and doubts were raised about the future of the sport in Malta.
Galea's gold medal changed all that as the Swimming Board doubled their efforts to make the most of the Andorra breakthrough and entice more youngsters to the pool.
Last year, Andy Colbourn was handed the reins of the national team and his work seems to have reaped the desired dividends. This year, his selection includes the upcoming Nicole Cremona and Talisa Pace besides Australia-based Madeleine Scerri. They will be teaming up with the more experienced Galea, Davina Mangion and Neil Agius.
Earlier this year, the Maltese competed in the Melbourne World Championships and returned home satisfied after breaking new national records and establishing personal best times.
"After the Melbourne worlds we stepped up our preparations for the GSSE. The schedule is rigorous but I was pleased with the swimmers' commitment," Colbourn said.
"Our tests have shown that their form is steadily improving and they are constantly lowering their times. Indeed, the Maltese swimmers will be up to the challenge in Monaco."
Unlike previous editions, this time Malta's hopes of a medal do not rest solely on Galea. Scerri's inclusion in the team has bolstered the medal chances significantly. Colbourn is targeting, at least, three podium finishes.
"Predictions are not easy in this sport but, I do feel that we have a good chance of winning at least three or four medals," Colbourn said.
"Angela and Madeleine will head our medal charge. I'm also expecting the swimmers to be competitive in relays. Obviously, positive results depend on different factors but we have every reason to be optimistic at this stage."
Colbourn said the build-up of some of his swimmers was somewhat disrupted due to academical commitments.
"Unfortunately, some of my swimmers were forced to miss training sessions prior to the Games because they exams," Colbourn said.
"This is a problem all sport organisers face every year. I think someone must find a way to solve this problem. Sport and studies, in my opinion, are equally important in one's life.
"So, the authorities must make sure that they do not make life difficult for those who want to make a career in sport, and, at the same time want to further their studies."
Asked to comment on the future of the sport on our islands, Colbourn sounded optimistic.
"I think there's a bright future in this sport if these youngsters are well taken care of," Colbourn commented. "At present, swimmers like Talisa Pace and Nicole Cremona look to have all cards in place to establish themselves at the top level.
"Besides, there are others who also seem to have a bright future in front of them. Andrea Agius and Edward Caruana Dingli have set personal best times quite consistently this season. We have to produce a strong men's team for the next GSSE in Cyprus in 2009."
Colbourn's contract with the ASA expires in 2008 and until then the Briton would have already worked out on a development plan.
"In a small country like Malta where resources are limited, it is important to make use of every source of help to the maximum," he commented.
"Here, we have a group of coaches who are doing an excellent job with their clubs. My idea is that those who prefer to keep training with their respective clubs can continue to do so, provided their coaches are in constant contact with the Swimming Board to discuss their progress."