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The thrill of the chase

Event: British Gas ASA South West Region Age Group Championships 2014 Venue: Hengrove, Bristol Date: 14th and 15th June 2014

The final weekend of the 2014 Regional Age Group Championships concluded at Hengrove, Bristol and was the last chance for Dolphin’s younger age group swimmers to achieve national qualifying times. Changes to the British competition structure proposed by British Swimming include increasing the minimum age of national qualification from 11 to 14 and to base selection on rankings rather than qualifying times. These changes, currently in consultation and planned to be implemented next year, meant this could be one the last occasions in the country where swimmers would experience the excitement of pursuing national qualifying times.

Dolphin’s newest national qualifier, William Davies, was clearly not content with just the 1,500m freestyle and knew he was in with a chance of adding the 200m and 400m events to his portfolio. On the first day of the meet, a spirited effort in the shorter event saw Davies finish agonisingly less than half a second outside the required time although his eighth place heat finish secured a place in the final. Despite another fine effort and a move up the rankings to finish in sixth, it was clearly an event that Davies will need to develop as he again fell short of the mark.

Olivia Flack was also looking to increase her numbers of national qualifying events and finished the day in style, dipping just under the mark in the 400m freestyle. Flack’s other swims across the competition also earned her sufficient BAGCAT points to place her eighth place in the overall BAGCAT awards.

Olivia Flack ~ new qualifying time in the 400m freestyle and 8th place in the 12 years BAGCAT awards

The final day of the meet and the overall competition was fittingly the most exciting for Dolphin. Regan Jefferies’ 100m breaststroke proved that he is maybe not just a 200m swimmer after all, as his 1:15.81 heat swim earned him a place in the finals and brought him within just a few seconds of his national time. The girls 200m freestyle was the most lucrative event for Dolphin in terms of excitement and spectacle, particularly the finals. By virtue of her 2:13.26 split time in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay a week earlier, Ella Wardale had realised that achieving her required 2:11.36 national time was not an unrealistic target. Wardale was disappointed with her 2:14.69 heat time although it was good enough to earn a place in the 14 years final. 12 year olds Olivia Flack and Sophie Bartlett, both of whom were similarly within striking distance of their respective national marks, also made it through to their age group final.

Prior to the finals, the last heats of the day incorporated the boy’ 400m freestyle which saw Dolphin’s William Davies and James Watson drawn in adjacent lanes. The event was Davies’ last chance of another national time and something he was more than capable of. Watson was also aware of this and whilst he realised his own national qualifying time was maybe beyond his reach on this occasion, he knew from previous swims at the meet that he was capable of getting close to Davies’ time or at least holding the pace for much of the race. Watson remained just in front of Davies from the outset and despite appearing to drop the pace drastically on the fourth fifty allowing Davies to close the gap, regained his composure and held a steady pace for the remaining 200m to finish in 4:31.57, a full seven seconds quicker than he had swum the same event just a week earlier. Still on Watson’s tail, a delighted Davies touched home in 4:32.94, well inside his national qualifying time.

James Watson and William Davies ~ teamwork

The eagerly awaited girls’ 200m freestyle finals took place in the last day finals session with Flack, Bartlett and Wardale all looking to find those few additional seconds that would reward them with national qualification in the event. In the 12 year old final, Flack and Bartlett occupied the outside lanes and to raucous support, both girls managed to produce faster swims and picked up a few places each finishing 5th and 6th respectively. Flack’s excitement in believing to achieve however turned to disappointment as she missed the mark by just one quarter of a second.

Wardale had yet to achieve national qualification and was probably surprised to find herself making her first realistic attempt in a 200m event rather than a shorter event that she had always favoured. The cool, calm exterior normally displayed was nowhere to be seen as the swim commenced, and an opening 100m faster than in the heats suggested that her mission was on target to being accomplished. It was however not to be for the 14 year old this year and despite a faster overall swim and a creditable 5th place finish, stopped the clock just past the required time.

Olivia Flack and Ella Wardale are just two of many swimmers across the country who will have experienced the bitter disappointment of falling short of national qualifying times. This often harsh experience will invariably provide the motivation for swimmers to make an attempt the following year, and whether the proposed new system of qualifying based on rankings will produce the same level of motivation remains to be seen. It is unlikely however to provide the same level of excitement generated by a swimmers making attempts to achieve a national times, whether they succeed in their quest or fail. Its primary aim is to prevent swimmers persistently chasing times and to ensure a quality experience at the national championships by guaranteeing the numbers of swimmers per event. The ultimate goal of the new proposals are to produce more medal winning Olympians and to ensure an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for all swimmers within the sport.

Dolphin’s Chief Coach Louise Clayton is supportive of the proposed British Swimming competition system changes. “We have been used to swimmers chasing national qualifying times and change can be difficult. However, it is important that we look at these potential changes as just one part of a new strategy designed to improve the overall performance of British swimmers. It appears that qualifying times may still be in place at county and regional level although there may be increases in the minimum ages at these levels. It is important that as a club we embrace any changes to play our part in delivering the strategy, and if necessary we will look at ways of developing our squad structure to adapt to this.”

Click here to view British Swimming’s New British Competition System Consultation Paper.


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