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By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will be sending its strongest ever swimming team to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Team GB head Mark England said on Tuesday after an initial squad of 28 was announced with more to come before July.
Reigning Olympic 100m breaststroke champion and world record holder Adam Peaty is the standout name in a lineup of multiple medallists.
More names could be added in June after the European aquatics championships in Budapest and a marathon swim qualifier in Portugal, with a number of relay slots also still to be filled.
Chef de mission England told reporters the country was expecting great things in the pool when the delayed Games start in July.
"I'd be pretty confident that we are selecting today the strongest swim team that has ever represented Team GB at an Olympic Games," he said.
"The strength in depth that the swim team has now, and the performance outcomes from recent results... has just been nothing short of fantastic."
British swimmers had their best Olympics since 1908 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with six medals, placing the country sixth overall on a table dominated by the United States (33 medals, 16 golds).
British swimming performance director Chris Spice was wary of making predictions, however, pointing out that the team was young and with 70% new and first time Olympians.
"Strongest is always a question compared to your opposition," he said. "And unfortunately we don't know exactly where all the opposition is right now. Australia and the United States haven't had to swim fast this year.
"So in terms of comparing this team to previous teams, it's a strong team but in terms of it delivering something extraordinary in Tokyo, its probably a bit too early to tell... we don't quite know where we are internationally."
Peaty, the only British swimmer to strike gold in Rio, is the only man to have swum the 100m under 58 seconds and also has the top 20 fastest times in history in the discipline.
He can become the first British swimmer to retain an Olympic title.
"I want to go out there and just enjoy the process of going to an Olympics," he said. "And hopefully give the performance that country, and the world, deserves after going through so much rubbish with COVID-19.
"I think sport is one the things that can inspire people and that people love and I just want to reinstate that."
The 26-year-old was pre-selected for the Games in January, along with double Olympic relay silver medallist Duncan Scott and first time Olympians James Wilby and Luke Greenbank.
The full squad includes former world champion Ben Proud, whose trials time in the 50m freestyle would have been good for silver at the 2019 world championships, and double Olympic silver medallist James Guy.
Brothers Joe and Max Litchfield are on the team, while 400m Individual Medley specialist Aimee Willmott is heading to her third Games.
Butterfly swimmer Alys Thomas will make her Olympic debut at the age of 30.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)