A team of 26 swimmers from the Swim England South East region recently travelled to compete in the Luxembourg Euro meet at the end of January. Seven of the 26 South East swimmers were a strong contingent from just four clubs based in Kent, namely RTW Monson, Sevenoaks, Thanet and Tonbridge.
The swimmers had been selected following on from their impressive medal-winning performances at the SE Regional Winter Championships in late November. Six of those seven Kent swimmers came from three clubs based in West Kent. The Kent swimmers were all aged 14 to 17 years.
The weekend was a learning experience for them all and a great chance to experience the razzamatazz of such a big event finals with loud music, flashing lights and pyrotechnics. For five of the Kent swimmers, it was their first taste of representation at an international meet.
However, for all the team, the trip brought the experience of having to deal with being away from their home environment for five days, sharing a hotel room with someone else on the team, who they perhaps hadn’t met before, eating their meals at ad hoc times and different from their usual routines, and having to balance and adapt their away from home training, as well as heat-swim and finals-swim routines. Even eating different food can sometimes cause disruption to a swimmer’s performance.
The meet itself saw a number of Olympic medalists racing from Great Britain, South Africa, Sweden, Italy, the USA and Ukraine. The Kent swimmers shared the same hotel as a lot of the International swimmers and had the opportunity for a photo encounter with Ben Proud. Ben is a GB Sprint specialist who is the current 50m Freestyle World Champion over the Short Course and Long Course format. He is also the current European and Commonwealth Champion as well. They also met well known South African multiple Olympic and World Medalist Chad Le Clos.
RTW Monson had the youngest of the Kent contingent competing. Aran Bissett (14) had a very busy program and produced some great races, showing experience way beyond his years.
Aran swam well and brought home six medals in the Youth Age Group (14/15 years). He won golds in the 50m Fly, 50m Back, 100m Fly and the 200m IM, silver in 50m Free and a bronze in 100m free. He also qualified for the Open B Final in the 200m IM. Aran was also joined on the tour by the RTW Head Coach Adam Naylor.
Sevenoaks SC were represented by four swimmers: Albert Branch (17), Matt Burrows (17), Aaliyah Richards (16) and Eva Okaro (16). Albert had a very successful weekend swimming in four events and setting five new personal bests (PBs). A butterfly specialist, Albert swam in the 50m, 100m and 200m Butterfly and qualified for the Open B Final in 200m Fly, whilst winning gold in the Junior category. He also set a new PB time in the 100m Free.
Breaststroke specialist Matt Burrows swam in all three Breaststroke events. After a rest day/training day on the Friday, Matt set a new PB time in the 50m Breaststroke. A first taste of an overseas meet for Matt with valuable lessons learnt and experience gained.
Fellow Breaststroke specialist Aaliyah Richards had a busy program over the three day event with heats and finals swims in the 50m, 100m and 200m.
Aaliyah brought home a silver medal in the Junior 50m event and a bronze in the Junior 200m. In the open category, she qualified for one A final and two B finals. She also managed to speed to a new PB time in her 50m Butterfly heat.
Eva Okaro swam in four events, qualifying for three A Finals and one B final along the way.
Eva is a current British Junior and Senior international swimmer, having won medals at the European Junior Championships in the past two times it has been held. She is a very experienced competitor and is very much used to potential high-pressured racing environments. Eva brought home Junior silver medals in the 50m & 100m Freestyle and the 50m and 100m Butterfly. She also finished 3rd in the Open category in the final of the 100m Butterfly setting a new PB time in both the heat and the final of this event. Eva then set a new 50m Fly PB in the A final.
Tonbridge SC were represented by their club captain Caitlin Ebbage. A former Team GB Junior international, Caitlin swam in all three backstroke events plus the 50m freestyle. Having just returned to training and competition after a six week hiatus following illness and injury, she swam well to qualify for two Open B Finals and one Open A final in the backstroke events.
Oliver Pope (17) from Thanet SC had a busy five event program over the course of the meet and brought home two Junior medals by winning Junior silver in 400m IM and Junior bronze in 200m Backstroke. Oliver set new backstroke PBs in the heat and final of the 200m event. A multi-stroke specialist, his other events were in the 200m IM and 400 IM as well as the 200m Freestyle.
This was the first long course competition for all seven Kent swimmers. The middle distance and sprint events at the Kent County Championships are being held over two weekends on 11/12 and 25/26 February.
One of the Kent swimmers, Caitlin, flew off to Dubai in early February for the Swim England DiSE training and competition camp, where she will train for three days at a purpose built complex and then compete in the Middle East Open Championships for three more days.
• Report written by Mary Ebbage, Media & Communications Officer at Tonbridge Swimming Club.