Relays renewed for Southampton Masters at revamped SC Masters Nationals

The calendar competition year for Masters draws to a close once again, but not without a principality ‘make-over’. The previously recognised British Masters Short-Course Championships now renamed ‘Swim England’ to fall in line with counterpart events in Scotland and Wales saw a revitalised Ponds Forge pool, splashes of red and white (most appropriate for Southampton!) and freshly minted medals.

The one thing that had not changed was the standard of competition – as the last weekend of October remains the highlight of the domestic Masters listing, and despite the flurry of excitement in Budapest for The World Championships, momentum had clearly not slowed closer to home. The scene was set for yet more British, European and even World records to be broken.

The Sotonian camp also bore witness to a make-over of its own – with certain major names now absent from the squad (Martin Bennell, Chris Jones, Jess Davies), new faces donned the colours to support those now getting somewhat long in the chlorine tooth! Kay Howells (25-29yrs) was looking to build on a steady return to form from Regionals earlier in the month with a short distance Butterfly programme…but an early bout of tonsillitis did hinder performance. A strong 50m (00.35.36) and 100m (01.18.10) Butterfly saw Top.20 finishes in the tough younger division, whilst the 100m IM (01.20.63) was down on her Masters best, but a Season’s Best nonetheless.

Rob Langan (30-34yrs) stripped his Backstroke entries in similar fashion, opting for the 50m (00.30.36) and 100m (01.06.92) only – both claiming Top.10 finishes. James MacTavish (35-39yrs) clearly hadn’t learnt from the agony of Aberdeen and pushed on with a 1500m FC (19.16.23) clocking a near Personal Best and a solo individual Silver behind Otter SC’s open water specialist Pip Bennett. As a result, the usually more favoured sprint events did suffer from lack of fast-twitch, but both the 50m FC (00.27.39) and 50m Butterfly (00.30.60) were Season’s Bests, with the 400m FC (04.46.99) stretching the 35-year-old amongst stern competition after 48hrs of racing and securing a Top.10 finish.

Cathy Willcocks (40-44yrs) was a new and welcome addition, taking a Top.10 placing in the 50m Back (00.37.06) and respectable 14th place in the in 50m FC (00.31.65), whereas veteran Amanda Rush (45-49yrs) stuck to familiar territory with the 50m Back (00.35.32) and 50m FC (00.31.75) for yet more Top.10 finishes.

Sarah Aldridge (45-49yrs) was another suffering from a little Worlds fatigue, but still clawed closer to the podium in the coveted 50m FC (00.29.71), little over 0.5 second behind Bronze, capping the weekend off with polished 50m Fly (00.34.36) and 50m Back (00.35.39) for further Top.10 entries.

Illness struck a second time in the team with Duncan Lip (40—44yrs), as the 43 year-old embarked on an ambitious FC series from 50m to 800m whilst battling a turbulent tummy! 50m FC (00.31.75) came close to a Season’s Best, where the 200m FC (02.36.91) ranked as one of the fastest time for the regular. The 400m FC (05.49.29) proved a length or two too far slipping outside the first twelve.

With only one medal from the individuals, the heavy burden fell to the relays….no easy task when reviewing the talent on show. Hampshire clubs were certainly in ostentatious mode with both Basingstoke and Fareham Nomads coming through with a series of European and British Records in the 160yrs+ age divisions – but Southampton were able to join them in the Mixed 4 x 100 FC relay thanks largely to the efforts of Seb Brindley (30-34yrs) – kicking the first leg off in a sub-56 second swim to keep MacTavish in contention. Aldridge held firm in the face of Bryn Hughes from Basingstoke B-Team, whereas Rush hung on to hold off former CSSC Assistant Coach Caroline Ball to claim the final podium place behind Bluefins A and Portsmouth Northsea.

The 120yrs+ in the same event had a slightly easier ride, with Langan/Willcocks/Howells/Lip pulling clear of RTW Masters, but left in the wake of the drilled GB Police team for Silver. There were a series of ‘near misses’ for other quartets, with the Mens 4 x 100 FC (Brindley / Langan / MacTavish / Lip) being pipped by a second to forth – despite Mr Brindley suffering one of two goggle malfunctions of the weekend! Similarly, the distance of less than a meter separated the Mixed 120yrs 4 x 50 FC (Brindley / MacTavish / Aldridge / Howells) between Bronze and 6th, the Reds sadly falling the wrong side of the line.

A special shout out had to go to the Mixed 4 x 100 Medley team (120yrs) for what can only be described as the ‘Relay Horriblis’ – Brindley with another ‘Goggle-gate’, Rush slipping on the Backstroke start, MacTavish suffering from ‘shoulder-gate’ (swimming vertically for the last 5m) and Howells missing two turns! How we finished fourth is anyone’s guess!

So, not quite the medal haul we’ve come to expect from Southampton Masters at Nationals – and pale in comparison to Long Course in June. However, even adding the recently departed Bennell, there would have only been one Gold on show – his party being somewhat spoilt by David Denny and Rob Robson from Oxford and Kenilworth respectively. There’s also the point to be made that medalling at Nationals should NOT be easy….and with the introduction of qualifying times now, attending such an event is really something to aspire to for many a Masters swimmer – not a ‘turn up and be rewarded’ affair. Further positivity can come from the sheer strength of Hampshire as a County in this discipline, with 4 European and 6 British records coming from our neighbours. Inter-Counties should be a confident experience for those selected (included several Southampton swimmers), with the team aiming to keep ahold of their much-coveted Top Masters County National ranking.

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

Medal Tally:
GOLD : 0
TOP.10 : 14

James MacTavish
CSSC Masters Coach