LOCAL swimmers made home advantage count at the Link Centre this weekend as they dominated the first two days of the Wiltshire County ASA Youth Championships.
Swindon Dolphin lead the medals table with 44 medals, including 14 senior gold, four individual senior golds collected by 17-year-old team captain Mathew Sambrook.
Swindon Tigersharks are second, buoyed by strong performances in the junior championships. Bethany Wakefield, 15, earned four of the teams’ 24 medals but performance of the day went to Sean Purvis, 15, who won the junior championship in each of his seven events.
Swindon Dolphin coach Anthony Clark was impressed by the number of strong performances over the weekend.
“It was a good start for us,” he said. “There’s still another day of the Championships, but overall we’ve done really well. We’ve picked up a lot of medals and there were some 1-2-3 finishes and even some 1-2-3-4 finishes, so that shows how much depth we have. The main thing is that they enjoyed it.”
Tigersharks head coach Lesley Leffers said she was pleased with the resurgence after disappointment at this event 12 months ago.
“It’s been a really fabulous weekend for us,” she said. “The kids have worked really hard and it’s paid off this weekend with a big turnaround from last year.”
The Youth Championships also incorporated this year’s age group championships, which bore some fruit for the other local clubs competing, including Wroughton, who collected a youth bronze for Ross Kennedy’s performance in the 100m butterfly. Wootton Bassett and Swindon also picked up medals within respective age group competitions.
The action was frenetic, with most races beginning before the previous competitors had left the water. Most often, finishers cling to the ropes as the next heat’s swimmers dive over their heads to begin their race.
Most of the Championships are ‘heat declared’ - no final separates the swimmers except over 100m and 200m distances. The fastest outright time across all heats takes the Championship. All swimmers are eligible for the senior championship, those aged 15 and under also competing for junior titles.
Swindon Dolphin captain Sambrook led the local swimmers with five senior championship golds, including the 4x50m team medley and a bronze in the 100m butterfly. He was crowned Wiltshire’s best male swimmer in the 200m and 400m freestyle, 400m individual medley and the 200m backstroke.
He was pleased with his tally, but said that he’s not finished yet: “I’ve picked up eight golds today, including those in my age group competition, but there are some more events next week that I really want to win, so hopefully I’ll have some more very soon.”
Tigershark Sean Purvis’ times were strong enough to claim three senior bronzes, in the 100m and 400m individual medley and the 400m freestyle. He was named junior champion in each on top of the junior golds in the 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke and butterfly over 50m and 100m.
Leffers singled the 15-year-old out for special praise at the close of the weekend’s action: “Sean has done incredibly well,” she said. “To win each of the junior championships that he was involved in is outstanding.
“Two years ago, he barely had a time to qualify for this event, but now he’s very close to a qualifying time for the National Championships in about six events.”
Purvis said: “Winning these trophies makes the early sessions worth it. We train eight times a week so it’s great to get to these events and see that hard work pay off.”
Jon Audis, 33, of Swindon Dolphin claimed the 100m backstroke title for the tenth consecutive year as well as winning the 100m individual medley and 50m butterfly. He claimed silver over 100m butterfly and bronze in the 50m breaststroke. Despite his advancing years, Jon shows no sign wanting to give up just yet.
“I think it might be different if I wasn’t still winning,” he said. “I don’t train as much because of other priorities that come along when you get older.
“I have a job and a family, but while I keep winning, I’ll keep coming along.”
Fellow Dolphin James Clark, 19, also grabbed a hat-trick of golds in the 100m butterfly, the 100m breaststroke and the 50m freestyle, where he stormed home in 23.77, more than a second ahead of Chippenham’s Jonathan Cook.
Charlotte Pitts of Swindon Dolphin secured two golds, in the 200m and 400m freestyle and a silver in the 400m individual medley ahead of fellow Dolphin Lauren Matthews who took one of her three senior bronzes, which she added to her two silvers and gold in 50m butterfly.
Rebecca Cook, from Tigersharks, took the 400m individual medley junior title, also landing a junior bronze in the 100m breaststroke. Her team mate Beth Wakefield took junior bronze in the 50m breaststroke and was double junior champion in the 200m and 400m freestyle, her performance over 400m also securing senior bronze.
Wakefield said: “There’s something special about swimming, it’s a feeling that you can’t get from other sports. I have reduced some of my times this weekend, so that’s important looking ahead to the regionals and maybe even the nationals.”
Fifteen-year-old Cook said: “To win here gives me a great sense of achievement and I can see the hard work paying off. I always enjoy swimming, so getting in the pool every morning is quite easy.”
Charlotte Gardo of Swindon Dolphin picked up two senior medals in the breaststroke taking gold in the 50m breaststroke and bronze in the 100m.
Swindon Dolphins Fraser Durston, James Watson and Rebecca Flack, each claimed two silvers and a bronze each. Ella Wardale and Liam Jefferies also aided their cause with two bronzes each.
Oliver Howitt of Tigersharks took three junior silvers and a junior bronze.
Dolphins Georgina Pitts, Olivia Flack, Adam Coleman, Jake Lewis and William Davies were also among the medals as were Tigersharks Lisa Cowley, Emily Weston and Rebecca Maddocks, to cap a great weekend for the Swindon-based clubs.
Dolphin 4x50m junior team of sisters Becca, 15, and Livvy Flack, 12, Annie Ward, 13, Sophie Bartlett, 12 marked their first swim as a team with a victory in 2:09.44 ahead of Bradford-on-Avon.
“I think we were quite confident,” says Becca. “Being in a team is great, because you feel like you’re swimming for your team members rather than just yourself.
“We’ve started really well, but now we’ll look at marginal gains. Things like starts, takeovers and underwater phases, all the technical things.”
Swindon Tigersharks took the men’s junior 200m team medley in a time of 2:04.86 ahead of Trowbridge in second and Swindon Dolphin completed the podium in third. Dolphin senior women also claimed third in the 4x50m team medley.
Wiltshire ASA President Michele Greenan, who presented each of the prizes, said: “These events help to give a sense of achievement to the swimmers who take so much time training, swimming up and down, up and down. For many this will be the highlight of their year.
“It’s really important for the younger swimmers because, for most it’s the first taste of competition in more of a friendly environment. The regionals and nationals are serious business.
“For those more experienced swimmers, this might be a step on the path towards those bigger championships.
“I’m delighted to be here handing out the awards, because you do see the recipients faces light up. I’ve known lots of these swimmers from when they were tiny little people and now there are some that I can’t reach when they’re on the podium.
“I’d like to thank the volunteers, too. Events like this couldn’t run without the volunteer team, nor without those within the clubs that keep the sport going.”
The Wiltshire ASA Youth Championships conclude this weekend with the two final sessions on Saturday at the Link Centre.