Bennell brings Gold to the Silver City at National LC Masters

There have been some curious choices of venue for National Masters Long Course Championships over the years, with the honourable intention of sharing the event across the three home nations often resulting in considerable travel for many (Plymouth, Swansea, Manchester). However, 2017 saw a new benchmark - the selection of the most northern 50m pool in the UK!

Aberdeen, better known for oil than water, received generous funds via Scottish Sport ahead of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, with its University also fronting the costs of a deluxe sporting venue  - catering for not just swimming, but all sports from football to athletics to racket sports. Dubbed ‘The Sports Village’, the title suggests a sense of scale, and believe me, this place certainly lived up to its hype. Stunning facilities, helpful staff and smooth organisation….just a shame it took between 6-8 hours to get there!

However, once the event was underway, it was business as usual. Southampton Masters pulled together a healthy team of six despite the event’s location – more than in previous years – and with a quartet of Men, relays were firmly back on the agenda! But contrary to past success, the Reds podium places favoured the efforts of individuals for the first time, a rare feat given a near-capacity entry and competitors hungry for success ahead of Worlds in Budapest later this year.

Rob Langan (30-34yrs) switched allegiance from Salisbury to Southampton for the second year in a row to flesh out the Backstroke representation. A solid 100m Back (01.08.86) missed Bronze to Wiltshire rival Phil Muspratt by less than a second, but amends were made over 200m Back (02.34.32) as the 30-year-old took the final podium spot with a well-paced swim. James MacTavish (35-39yrs) made the bold step of attempting his first ever Long Course 1500m F/C (19.51.14), a move that paid off with a Silver behind Guildford’s Open Water specialist Simon Dyson. A strong 400m F/C (04.56.87) secured a Top.5 finish, but fell behind the epic Paul Bernard of Trafford Metro (who went on to dominate the 50m F/C in the fastest time of the weekend – 00.23.64).

Martin Bennell (40-44yrs) has long been held in the shade across all events by rivals Ben Harkin and Lee Peterson of Chesterfield and Braintree respectively. Slipping into the new age group for the first time, Bennell maximised his opportunity to dominate before Harkin joins him once again in 2018 – and dominate he did! Personal Bests fell like granite dominoes as race after race the 40-year-old stood atop of the podium, and it started in style as the 50m Breast (00.30.66) out-touched the relatively unknown Andrew Cooper of Trafford Metro by 1/100th second to claim a new British Record… …unexpected, but nonetheless welcomed! Topping such an auspicious start to the competition was never really going to happen, but aggressive and spirited swims in the 50m Fly (00.27.15), 100m Fly (01.01.77), 50m F/C (00.25.88), 100m F/C (00.56.35) and 100m Breast (01.10.53) was enough to keep nearest competitor Richard Stannard of Maidenhead at bay.

Martin Bennell being award Gold

Duncan Lip (40-44yrs) finished the weekend with some considerable improvements across his favoured middle-distance races, with Personal Bests in the 200m F/C (02.41.84) and 400m F/C (05.56.66). Partner Kae Neudstadt (40-44yrs) continued her road to recovery with committed swims in the 50m Breast (00.51.93) and 50m F/C (00.41.03).

Finally, Sarah Aldridge (45-49yrs) produced arguably some of the most surprising performances of the Sotonian camp. Heading into a heated, talent-packed age-group over popular F/C distances, the 46-year-old battled her way to Bronze in both the 50m F/C (00.29.56) and 100m F/C (01.06.77), again with Personal Best times.

Relays were expected to follow a similar template to that set in Plymouth in 2013, with extreme venue location weighing heavily on Masters Teams’ ability to forge enough manpower to enter…..indeed, up until the final week before closing, there were only six Clubs registered! Local clubs Aberdeen City and Silver City made some last minute entries to balance out the heats, which did impact Southampton’s ability to capitalise on weaker-than-expected turnout. The Mens 4 x 100m F/C (Bennell/Langan/MacTavish/Lip) battled to Silver to overhaul Silver City, but not enough to withstand the Otter SC onslaught. A similar scenario occurred in the 4 x 50m F/C, with the local favourites bringing in additional ammunition to prevent a Team Gold. Still, some excellent swims from all four Southampton Masters and strong splits ahead of SC Nationals in October.

The Southampton team in Aberdeen

A medal haul of 12 eclipsed the previous best National Haul from 2012 by one….but more impressively, that was a time when relays were the primary force behind the metal, this time, it was individual performances (from one individual in particular!) that bolstered the end result. In a year set for big Masters swims, and more and more National, European and World Records falling each month, this was a streamlined team that proved that less is sometimes more!

Back to earth for the end of the month’s County Masters Championships!

Full results from the competition are available to view on the Swim Scotland website.

Medal Tally
GOLD : 6 
TOTAL : 12 

James MacTavish
CSSC Masters Coach