Masters perform as Plymouth plays host for Nationals 

The Life Centre at Plymouth is one of the newest 50m pools in the Country, built ahead of the 2012 Olympics as a proposed training base for International contingents. The initial public opening was set to be 2011, but delays meant that its inaugural Masters Meet scheduled for the same year had to be postponed to the following – with Ponds Forge coming to the rescue.

When 2013 came around, the Centre was ready, but it was fair to say the athletes weren’t. An anaemic affair with limited individual heats and even more limited relays saw Southampton capitalise with a cornucopia of titles….five years’ on, it was a different story!

Such has been the progress of British Masters Swimming that events that once had to scramble to attract attention now end up turning competitors away due to swollen capacity. Additional Long Course events had been held up and down the home countries in order to allow Masters to achieve the newly introduced qualifying times over longer distances (800m and 1500m) and even then, it was a ‘first come, first served’ operation, leaving several swimmers disappointed.

Distance swimming appears to be flavour for Sotonian Masters at present with both James MacTavish (35-39yrs) and Duncan Lip (40-44yrs) taking on the 800m FC during opening day. MacTavish had it all to do in a relatively new event for the 36 year-old, knowing that premier Otter SC Master Pip Bennett was going to be away and gone for Gold. However, a weaker field allowed an opening for Silver, and a 12 second Personal Best (10.22.05) put Bennett under more pressure than usual, but not enough to wrestle the top podium spot from the sub-10-minute open water specialist.

Lip came in off the back of some solid training, but also an intense sports massage three days before. Clearly still feeling the effects of muscles and ligaments being pulled in different directions, the 44 year-old managed to sneak under the 13 minute mark (12.53.96), 10 seconds outside his best, but, still taking a second Silver for the team and his first individual Masters medal at a National Championships.

Both moved on to the 400m FC – again, MacTavish (04.54.50) had Bennett to contend with, and despite shaving a few seconds off his Personal Best once again, a few extra meters were needed at the end to overhaul Scottish rival Jon Matthews of Sterling – missing the bridesmaid position by just over a second but rewarded with the last podium spot. Lip on the other hand, endured a much tougher affair in the lower 40 years (06.02.74) – cracking the top.10 but off the pace of the seemingly indefatigable Richard Symons of Trafford. 

Anthony Blake (30-34yrs) was a last-minute additional to the team having made the individual 100m Breast qualifying time at last month’s Royal Navy event. The transition from Short to Long proved a challenge (01.44.75), but well-paced two lengths did see the Irishman crack the Top.5. Veteran Rob Langan (30-34yrs) suffered from interrupted training leading up to Nationals, but that didn’t stop the ex-Stingray claiming Bronze in the 100m Back (01.10.56) in modest time, and another Top.5 in the 50m Back (00.31.74). 

Lip continued into the latter half of the weekend with tidy swims in both the 200m FC (02.45.97) and 100m FC (01.12.66), the latter providing a narrow 2/10th second Personal Best. Whereas MacTavish tackled the now less-favoured 50m FC (00.28.22) and 50m Fly (00.31.25) for two more Top.10 finishes.

Down to the relays to bolster the medal tally as usual. Initially tabled for four, the 4 x 50m events were scratched in favour of the middle distance 4 x 100m and 200m FC. This literally provided a Silver lining for the patriarchal quartet as a relatively tepid field lead Langan/Lip/MacTavish/Blake to double-second behind a seasoned Exeter squad. That same field soon developed as Otter SC, Out to Swim and Loughborough added their voices come Saturday – leaving the previous victors in their wake!

What of the women? Well, the only Lady in Red so to speak was sprint specialist Sarah Aldridge (45-49yrs), whom was granted permission to swim with her old University friends at Team Anglia, assisting them to a relay title in the process. Individually, the 47 year-old did repeat her 50m FC (00.29.76) success from Aberdeen last year taking Bronze and came agonisingly close to further podium success in the 100m FC (01.06.85) and 50m Back (00.36.66), missing out on both by less than half a second.

Two World, Seven European and an incredible 47 British records drew the competition to a close, illustrating the strength of Masters swimming on this small European (just!) Island. Worth noting too the performances of Hampshire Clubs, with Fareham Nomads one of the two World Record breakers in their Mixed 4 x 100m Medley (160yrs) and several National titles to the Bluefins of Basingstoke. Overall, the County could boast the most success outside of London – quite incredible given the limited number of Olympic pools at our disposal! This is an event that is just going to get tougher and tougher to medal, but Southampton will be up for the challenge in 2019 as Swansea once again play host!

Congratulations to all. 

Full results from the competition are available on the British Swimming website.

Medal Tally: 
GOLD : 0 
TOTAL : 7 
TOP.10 : 10 

James MacTavish 
CSSC Masters Coach