Team efforts bring Southampton Masters success at National Masters Championships.

Despite many years of Short course representation at National level, this was only the second time Southampton Masters had competed at the National Long-Course championships – an event that broke with tradition this year and moved down from Sheffield to the West Country, taking advantage of Britain’s newest 50m pool, The Life Centre, Plymouth.

Such a move was clearly questioned but some Masters clubs, as attendance from teams north of Birmingham was limited – leaving the door open for Southampton to capitalise on the relay events. 
However, a true test of development was always going to be the number of individual medallists the team of 9 could produce – never an easy task, particularly when pedigree clubs such as Plymouth Leander were fielding swimmers aiming for British World Championship qualifying times!
Rob Gilbert (25-29yrs) embarked on quite a marathon for his two days of competition. It began with the 1500m FC, where despite a tough heat, he came through for the Bronze (20.59.87) and Southampton’s first individual medal of the meet. Gilbert quickly followed up with 100m Back, taking out two prime competitors to take his second Bronze of the day (1.12.07). Day two saw another impressive performance in the 200m Back (2.35.67) to complete a hat trick of Bronze medals. 
James MacTavish (30-34yrs) faced stiff competition in his age group, especially over his favoured events. Despite good times in the 50m (30.20) and 100m (1.08.47) Fly, these could only scrape through into the Top.10. But even after 20-odd years of competition, the coach is always up for a challenge – this year it came in his first ever attempt at a 400m IM long course! Frustratingly placed in the slower, penultimate heat, MacTavish gave it his all to take another Bronze, just ahead of Guy Armstrong from Black Lion (5.45.66).
Of the remaining quartet of men, Graham Cawte (50-54yrs) focused on the 50m Fly and came away with a Personal Best (37.71) and a Top.15 finish, whilst on more familiar ground, a solid 200m FC (02. 53.63) at the end of the 3-day competition saw the veteran place tenth  - his highest solo ranking ever. Duncan Lip (35-39yrs), fresh from success at the County Championships a few weekends before, found form once again to notch up Top.10 finishes in the 50m FC (32.81) and 50m Back (41.92). 
For the Ladies, Caroline Ball (18-24yrs) brought in family support from Exmouth to cheer her on to a fifth individual Bronze for the team in the 50m FC (29.91), whereas Amanda Rush (45-49yrs) put all her energy into securing yet another Bronze in the 50m Back (36.89). Kae Neustadt (35-39yrs) battled to record a good time in the 200m Breast (4.23.19), but was then elated when a disqualified rival meant her forth place finish was promoted to Bronze. 
At opposite ends of the Age Group spectrum, Laura Kerrigan (25-29yrs) went a stage further than Gilbert with swims in both the 800m (12.02.48) and 400m FC (5.50.34) for top.5 finishes. A strong final day performance in the 200m FC (2.47.62) saw Kerrigan her second European Masters qualifying time, alongside her 800m FC. Carol Pierce (55-59yrs) finished strongly in the 50m Fly (42.82) to take fifth place. 
Despite some courageous performances individually, it was going to take a team effort to land the titles. The Men’s team of Gilbert / MacTavish / Cawte / Lip got Southampton off to the perfect start, taking the 4 x 200m FC (120yrs), before the Ladies team of Ball/Kerrigan/Rush/Pierce took advantage of a slow field to claim the 4 x 100 FC title (72yrs).  Further success came in the Mixed 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 FC relays, with Ball/Gilbert/Cate/Rush (replaced by Kerrigan in the 100m relay) both came away with Gold medals. 
Silver medals followed in the Women’s 4 x 50 FC and Medley Relays, but perhaps the strangest incident came in the Mixed 4 x 50 FC at the close of Day Two, where the quartet of Ball/MacTavish/Kerrigan/Gilbert were beaten into Forth place by locals Devonport – only to be reinstated into Bronze medal position on appeal following an investigation into the final Devonport swimmer (who turned out to be a representative from Exeter!) 
Last year, Southampton Masters came away with 15 medals in total at their debut at the National Masters Long Course championships – and truth be told, the squad then was boosted by some star performers like Martin Bennell and Tina Parkin (both of whom claimed the team’s only individual podium places). This year, a squad with arguably less experience really rose to the occasion on a National stage, taking home a record 7 individual medals, and pulling together as a team to commit to relays – and win! Master’s swimming can so often be dominated by primadonnas who are only interested in their own performances, this is a mentality I have always been keen to avoid at Southampton. As a result, our small delegation a bar far the best represented club when it comes to relays, and always reap the rewards! 

Southampton Masters with their Medals

A record breaking 17 medal haul from Southampton, and everyone going home with a medal – a strong signal to send to other British Masters teams ahead of the Short Course Nationals in October.
Final Medal Tally
GOLD : 4
TOTAL : 17

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

James MacTavish
CSSC Masters Coach