Bennell’s hunger for global success at Budapest brings Bounty!

2016 saw the UK host the largest Masters Swimming event in living memory with the European Championship. Many competitors left the London Aquatics Centre with mixed emotions, some with pride and excitement at having competed on a continental stage in one of the most recognisable pools in the World…others, a sense of disappointment when faced with poor planning, scheduling, and overcrowding at what appeared to be avaricious intent on behalf of the Sport’s Governing body LEN.

Amends needed to be made for the next step up – and Budapest certainly seemed to deliver for the World Championships a fortnight before the Masters. Sell-out crowds, home success in Katinka Hosszu and Laszlo Cseh, and major infrastructure investment with four Olympic-sized pools. Expectations were high leading into the more Amateur events, as 12,000 Masters filled the void post the high profile superstars.

Pulling together teams for such an event was never going to be easy, and whilst the likes of local clubs Basingstoke Bluefins and Fareham Nomads pulled together the chlorine-religious, Hampshire representation was actually fairly sparse. Southampton did however, have the Ace-up-the-sleeve Martin Bennell (40-44yrs) competing in his first World Masters Championships, and representing the Red and White of the City.

It was a packed programme for the 40-year-old – despite a week long line of events. Day.1 saw the 100m F/C (00.55.60) and a respectable Top.8 finish, a strong start with a personal best, but international talent was glowing in the form of Claus Iversen of Denmark, clocking sub-54 seconds to take victory – medalling at this level was not going to be easy! No respite as the favoured 100m Breaststroke (01.09.92) saw Bennell slide under the converted 01.10.00 mark for the first time as a Master, and dipping inside the Top.10 for a second time.

Day.2 and a quick 50m Butterfly (00.27.22) fell short of the Top.10, but held as the highest ranking Brit for the age-division. Day.3, and the 100m Butterfly (01.01.05) had Bennell back in the Top.10 with another personal best.

A few days’ respite lead to the final event for the veteran, and arguably his best shot at a Top.5 finish. The 50m Breaststroke (00.30.96) again dipped under the prized 00.31.00 mark for the first time, but was nudged out of Top.5 by a Mr Hlavaty of Slovakia….still, a 6th Finish at worlds does entitle you to a Podium representation, and Bennell proudly stood with the best in the World – certificate and achievement medal in hand!

Also making appearances at Worlds were Southampton regulars Sarah Aldridge (45-49yrs) and Rob Langan (30-34yrs). Aldridge, having enjoyed relay success at last year’s Europeans, opted to join forces with old University colleagues in East Anglia. Their quartet in the 4 x 50 Medley relay came an agonising 4th Place in the 160yrs+ division by less than 0.5 of a second – but still enough to come away with honorary spoils. Langan deferred to home-town Salisbury Stingrays with solid performances in the 50m Backstroke (00.31.19) and 200m Backstroke (02.33.34).

Full results from the competition are available from the FINA World Masters Championships Budapest 2017 website.

It is a rarity that World Swimming events land so close to UK shores, hence the strong European contingent at these games – with 2019 moving to Gwangju in South Korea, expect a different clientele and with that different challenges (especially so close to the Tokyo Olympics the following year). London and the UK has however proven its worth as a sporting powerhouse, so hopefully opportunities will arise short term to welcome the best of World Masters Swimming here locally once again!

GOLD : 0
TOP 10 : 4

James MacTavish
CSSC Masters Coach