A select group of seven Berkhamsted Swimming Club members travelled to the UEA Sportspark in Norwich for the annual East Region Long Course (50m pool) Championships earlier this month and performed with distinction across the board.
The busiest swimmer was James Chennells with seven events, but the club was represented across all three days of the Bank Holiday weekend in all bar the distance freestyle sessions.
The weekend began on Saturday morning with Ellen Northwood completing the 200m fly in 2:46.58 to finish ninth and just one place outside the finals, setting the tone for a good weekend all round.
Ish Rahim placed 15th in the 50m backstroke ( 31.20) before Euan Donald stepped up with back-to-back races.
First off was the 100m breasstroket. With an aggressive start he was quicker than his short-course personal best (PB) at 50m, splitting 35.70, and finished strongly to slice three seconds from his long-course (LC) best, coming home in 1:18.67.
The second of his double header was the 100m fly, one of four boys from the club taking part. Again, he was fast away and led his field comfortably from bleep to touch, chopping four seconds from his LC best and actually finishing 4/10ths of a second faster than his best time in a 25m pool, four seconds quicker than his recent LC PB, finishing 18th overall out of 31 – real evidence of his improvement.
After several heats’ wait, next up was Chennells and he began his meet with another heat win from sixth-fastest seed in his heat and an unpromising 37th fastest entry time. His final 1:00.19 was agonisingly close to the 60-second barrier as he continues to lower most of the club’s records every time he swims.
Zac Patel and Ish Rahim made it a clean sweep of LC PBs in the event for the boys with 1:01.11 and 1:03.10, respectively, with Patel finishing second in his heat.
The second session of day one started with the girls’ 200m backstroke and Issy Soulsby was looking to rebuild her confidence after, in her own mind, disappointing swims at this level 12 months earlier.
Another lane seven draw saw her out of sight and out of mind for the faster swimmers in her race and she stormed away from the off to a clear heat win in 2:31.51 to make the final as the eighth-fastest when she had been seeded only 10th. Her 2:31.51 was another LC best time.
Rahim and Chennells were in the 100m freestyle with Ish popping under the 60-second barrier in 59.19 and Chennells recording yet another PB in 55.02, taking his heat comfortably again to place 10th when he went into the event in just 21st place.
Donald stepped back up again to take on the killer 400m individual medley (IM). With his best stroke being the fly, he had to take it out hard and led at 100m faster than his 100m fly PB before the morning race. He eventually finished fifth in the heat and 14th overall, another improvement on his initial seeding.
Soulsby’s 200m backstroke final in the evening saw her just tail off towards the finish, stopping the clock three seconds outside her morning swim, but still comfortably faster than her previous best time.
The Sunday morning began with an exceptional 200m fly performance from Donald.
Only two weeks earlier he had dropped his PB by nine seconds and with another attacking swim he improved a further four seconds and swimming quicker than his short-course (SC) best as well.
His 2:26.70 placed him third in the heat from lane one and sixth into the final, an improvement of five places on his entry seed.
Soulsby secured a LC PB in the 50m backstroke in 33.10, and she was just outreached at the finish to finish second in her heat.
James Corner joined the party in the 50m freestyle after a season beset by lack of training for a number of reasons and he should be happy with his 27.51 time, before Chennells was in the water again, taking sixth place in his heat in 25.60, fractionally outside his best for the first time in the meet.
Donald, showing his strength and versatility, was up again in the next event for the 200m breaststroke, taking more than seven seconds from his 50m pool PB in 2:48.39.
And the session wrapped-up with Chennells in the 400m freestyle with another club record.
Wanting to impose himself on the race from the second slowest lane one again, he went out through the first 100m leading in 1:00.26 and retained that lead through 200m (2:05.79), only dropping out of the lead at 250m.
As he understandably tired, he posted 4:17.25 for fourth in the eight-man heat.
His new club record beat the previous one by six seconds and his own PB by seven seconds. It was also converted to three seconds faster than his SC best.
The day finished with the 400 IM, this time for the girls and Soulsby was back in the water with a point to prove after a contentious disqualification at the County Championship in January.
Yet again drawn in lane one, she led at 50m on the fly, was just second at 100m with a time some four seconds faster than her 100m fly stand alone PB. From the turn to backstroke she was never headed, finally coming home some 20m ahead of the field, lowering her best by some 18 seconds (5:21.70), another club record and eighth place from the 14th seed.
The final day saw Chennells with three swims in the one session, a tall task for anybody, alongside Soulsby, Rahim and Patel.
Chennells began by dropping his own best and club record in the 200m IM to 2:17.60, smashing out the first 50m fly in 27.79, a good omen for his 50m fly later on. It also qualified him in seventh fastest spot for an unexpected final chance, having gone in 21st fastest.
Soulsby then stepped up for the 100m backstroke seeded 20th and made it two out two finals with a PB of 1:11.97 as she won her heat comfortably with a controlled swim.
Chennells’ target event for the final day was the 200m freestyle and he delivered, lowering his own recent club record and PB to 1:59.13 to make another final for the from 18th seed in the sixth-fastest qualification slot.
The last event was the boys’ 50m fly with Chennells up again, followed by Rahim and Patel. Chennells and Rahim both placed second in their heats with 27.59 and 27.82 respectively, with Rahim disappointed to finish one place outside the final in ninth but having swum well. Patel was seeded ninth-fastest and survived a kit malfunction as he stepped on to the blocks to blast his way into the final with a PB 26.63 and club record, heading into the final in sixth position.
Chennells took the 200m IM final steady to try to set himself up for the freestyle almost immediately after and was rewarded with sixth place, replicating his 1:59 from the heat.
Soulsby recorded exactly the same time as in her heat in the 100m backstroke final (1:11.97).
So it was left to Patel as the last Berkhamsted swimmer to compete and he moved up to fifth in the Open final of the 50m fly, clocking 26.65.
Coach Geoff Wood said: “Although there had only been six finals this year for the club’s athletes, their progress was evidenced by the fact that, in almost every case, they improved on their seedings going into the meet and continue to lop time from their previous bests and the future, in the youth age group looks bright as they all have a couple more years at least before moving onto university or adult life.”
Meanwhile, at the South West Region Championships, club members Amy Pemberton and Abbie Hurst, who are both now at school in the south-west, performed well.
Pemberton swam in four individual events with her best finish coming in the 200m freestyle final where she placed seventh in 2:10.33 after swimming an even faster PB in the heats in 2:09.36.
She also was part of the Plymouth Leander silver medal-winning squad in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay, where she posted a 2:12.18 leg.
Hurst made all three finals of the breaststroke, bringing home a bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke with 33.63 and a silver medal in the 100m, clocking a 1:12.71 time in the finals.