Record-breaking Bennell takes Masters County medal collection over Century 

As in 2016, the annual Hampshire Masters Championships drew the weekend following the National Long Course Championships in Aberdeen – a tough order for those sacrificing family-time for both, but at least a trip to Portsmouth was a little more reasonable than the cusp of the Scottish Highlands!

Mountbatten Centre once again played host to the County’s finest – a County coming off the back of being recognised as the strongest in Great Britain for Masters swimming and Inter-County Champions. From the talent on show, it was clear why…World, European and British Record holders galore, and even a few now-sporting celebrities (Katy Sexton) providing additional glitz.

The question posed each year is the methodology behind the Top Club Award. At present, Basingstoke Bluefins hold sway, taking advantage of the ‘swimmer=points’ system, and boasting one of the larger contingents when compared to domestic rivals. However, a noted stagnation in new talent from the Blues has allowed the door to open just slightly, in particular from the Red of the South Coast in Fareham Nomads and of course, Southampton. In response, the event has now not concerned itself so much with how many swimmers you can convene on the day, but how many races they can enter/win. Such an unbalanced approach does result in a few superstars stealing the show through event-packing, entering every race and dominating – and with names like Espinasse, Turner, Molyneaux and Corben in attendance, it was clear from early results just how much of a difference this saturated approach can make!

That said, Southampton did for the first time, have the largest party with a 34 strong collection – something both of which to be proud, and upon which to capitalise. A record number of relay entries (four in the 120yrs+) was certainly going to prove challenging from a coaching / management perspective, as weary bodies crawled to the blocks asking inevitable questions such as ‘What lane am I in? What stroke is it? / Who’s that bloke over there who’s really fast? Do I need to beat him!?’

Hampshires is always about the individual as much as the team, and many new faces took to racing conditions for the first time and cut their teeth in a competitive environment. Newcomers Terrance Holness-Wright and Andre Roberts (18-24yrs) both made welcome impressions in the younger divisions, the former taking home a position best finish of Bronze in the 50m Back (00.16.40). Whereas for the ladies, Siri Froystad (25-29yrs), whom only started Masters swimming a year ago, took home a County Title in the 25m Breast (00.22.77). The fresh-faced pack also included those more familiar with the ambience, with former National Age-Group qualifier and Southampton alumni Alex Palmer (nee Hamilton) taking home every colour in the 100m F/C (01.03.66) 50m Fly (00.31.97) and 50m F/C (00.28.40) against stiff opposition from Fareham’s Noemie Peignon and Laura Molyneux. Italians Giberto Ferreira (30-34yrs) and Marco Montanari (35-39yrs) came away with Bronze in the 25m Breast (00.21.15) and Gold in the 25m Fly (00.14.23) respectively, whereas Kelly Lewis (40-44yrs) learnt a hard lesson in early starts on the 100m IM (DQ), but redeemed in the 25m Fly (00.17.24) and 50m F/C (00.33.42) to earn double-Bronze.

On to the more familiar figures….Jess Farmer (18-24yrs) continued her road to recovery with final podium spots in the 100m Back (01.27.26) and 100m Breast (01.36.61), and Kay Howells (nee Shafford) reverting to type with strong title-winning performances in the 100m Fly (01.18.69) and 100m IM (01.19.77). Laura Kerrigan (30-34yrs) found the metal capture tough despite strong swims in the 100m F/C (01.17.88) and 200m F/C (02.43.36) off little training, coming up against the Palmers and Molyneaux’s once again. Similarly, Esme Ferguson (35-39yrs) had to settle for Bronze in both the 200m F/C (02.46.69) and 25m F/C (00.15.42).

Cathy Willcocks (40-44yrs) entered the new age-division with a quintet of Silvers – best performance being the 50m Back (00.37.49) being a Seasons Best. Whereas Amanda Rush and Rachel James (45-49yrs) had home competition in Sarah Aldridge, Rush settling for a series of Silver/Bronze medals and James just missing out. Aldridge herself didn’t have an easy ride, with multiple World Record Holding Champion Jo Corben barely pausing for breath across every event – Aldridge getting the better of her rival in the 25m Breast (00.18.56), 25m Fly (00.15.90) and 50m F/C (00.30.00) for Gold. Finally, Natasha Bye-Brookes (50-54yrs) propped up the more senior end with Gold in the 100m Breast (01.39.19).

For the Men….Jon Evans (25-29yrs) again had to content with big names from Portsmouth Northsea, but secured Silver in the less-contended 200m F/C (02.19.95), whereas Anthony Blake and James Wilson (30-34yrs) snuck onto the podium in the 100m Breast (01.39.09) and 25m Back (00.1940) respectively. The more formidable duo of Rob Langan and Seb Brindley (30-34yrs) challenged Bluefin Olly Espinasse’s dominance with SB Silver in 100m Back (01.04.64) for the former and a surprise, finger-tip touch Gold in the 50m F/C (00.25.39) for the latter.

Chris Osman and James MacTavish (35-39yrs) took advantage of their age-group upgrade, taking five-Golds apiece. Osman performing well across the favoured sprint distances in 50m F/C (00.26.01) and 50m Breast (00.33.28), with MacTavish using variance to his favour with Titles in 100m Back (01.10.90) and 50m Back (00.32.60), together with the preferred 50m Fly (00.30.69). Kevin Greenhough rounded off the division with Bronze in the 200m F/C (02.32.52).

The more senior divisions saw Duncan Lip (40-44yrs) offer a string of PB’s across a range of strokes, with significant improvements on the 50m Fly (00.36.41) and 200m F/C (02.37.70) to take Bronze. Marcus Barton and newcomer Mike Harris (45-49yrs) battled in a tough age division, with Barton taking the only spoils with a 50m Fly (00.32.11) Silver. Veteran Jerome Bakker (50—54yrs) made his quinquagenarian debut with a trio of Golds in 200m F/C (02.13.06), 100m Back (01.15.66) and 50m Back (00.33.82).

Finally, there was Mr Martin Bennell (40-44yrs), fresh from British Record setting success in Aberdeen the weekend prior, taking the clean sweep across all entered seven events. Aiming for a sub-30 second mark in the 50m Breast (00.30.01) the 40-year-old fell agonisingly short by 1/100th second, but made up for it with Short Course PB’s in the 100m F/C (00.54.87) and 100m Fly (01.01.03). Five County records to boot as well!

The relays are always a source of rivalry and entertainment, with Southampton entering in as defending champions for the blue-ribbon 120yrs+ division. However, the twist this year was the increase in distance from 4 x 25m to 4 x 50m…not overly dramatic, but try convincing some exhausted part-timers of that! The 72yrs+ Team (Langan/Brindley/Howells/Farmer) performed well, but found the going tough against slick Portsmouth Northsea and Fareham Nomads teams practically consisting of all current Hampshire Age-Group record holders. The pleasant surprises though came from the other end of the spectrum in the 200yrs+ (Rush/Bye-Brookes/Bakker/Harris), a division not usually favoured by Southampton given the younger age demographic, but narrowly missing Gold to Fareham in both the F/C and Medley Teams. As for the 120yrs+, a total of four Red Teams lined up in the same heat, with the ‘A’ team (Palmer/Osman/Bennell/Aldridge) the only real chance for medals – an extremely tight F/C race saw Basingstoke just hang on through the refinement of Fleur Parker to out-touch Aldridge on the final leg for Silver, whereas an energised Fareham Nomads maximised the Molyneaux/Corben partnership to push Southampton down into Third for the Medley – but with less than 1.5 seconds between all three each time, there’s definitely a re-match on the cards come Nationals!

It is rare any club returns with a medal haul over 100, but the now dominant three of Hampshire achieved this feat – but it was Southampton that returned with more individual gold medallists than its two rivals, illustrating the fact that sometimes it only takes a few indefatigable leads to make Top Club. It will never be my philosophy to enforce this on our Masters, but certainly the remaining 50% of our squad putting in an appearance on the day will go some distance to one day taking home the trophy!

Well done all!

GOLD : 30
SILVER : 38 
BRONZE : 37 
TOTAL : 105 

Full results from the competition are available to view on the Hampshire Swimming website.

James MacTavish
CSSC Masters Coach