Southampton Masters return to County Championships

James MacTavish

After a near year-and-a-half absence, the Hampshire ASA Masters County Championships finally took place for 2021 at Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth. A solid group of fourteen Southampton Masters made the short trip down the M27 to get some much-needed race practise in ahead of what is looking to become a packed final calendar quarter for the veteran swimmers with both Regional, National and Inter-County events all lining up over the coming months. 

Primarily, the County Masters Championships provides a great initial stepping stone to both returning and newcomer athletes to Masters swimming...especially given the circumstances post-COVID (if there is ever going to be such a term) and heightened trepidation around indoor gatherings, lack of training and event experience. The fun and friendly mentaility allows any Master, regardless of ability or provenance, to come and have a go and enjoy being around like-minded athletes that have adopted the 'sport for life' mantra. It was wonderful to see both familiar and new faces for City of Southampton Masters take to the blocks over the weekend, and come away with some fantastic results. 

Leading the gold-medal charge was Open Water specialist Fiona Carroll (30-34yrs) and her clean-sweep of top-podium finishes in distances from 25m F/C (00.14.53) to the longest entry in the programme, the 200m F/C (02.15.53). Six County-Titles went Carroll's direction, going one further than Southampton regular Sarah Aldridge (50-54yrs), the former British Record relay holder holding off a strong challenge from multiple World Masters Champion Jo Corben of South Down Trojans SC to claim a brilliant new County Masters record in the 50m Butterfly (00.36.06). Hannah Dicker (25-29yrs) doubled-up with first-place finishes in the 100m F/C (01.06.24) and 50m Backstroke (00.34.28) whereas newcomer Samantha Baillie in the same age-group snatched Gold in the 25m Backstroke (00.18.33) to complement her impressive debut of seven County medals. 

Veteran Rachel White (40-44yrs) entered her new age-division with convincing wins over the 200m F/C (02.33.16) and 50m Backstroke (00.37.42), with Amanda Rush (50-54yrs) battling again with the formidable Jo Corben to take Silver in her favoured 50m Backstroke (00.36.83). Suzanne Van Leeuween (45-49yrs) and Kae Neustadt (45-49yrs) both clocked personal bests over several 50m and 100m distances and awarded deserved podium places for their efforts. 

The Osman family proved impervious in their two age-groups, with Chris Osman (35-39yrs) successfully defending his 50m F/C (00.26.55) and 100m F/C (01.00.44) titles from 2019, together with a near-clean sweep of 25m sprint titles, spare the 25m Butterfly and Backstroke where Coach James MacTavish (35-39yrs) out-touched his club rival by splits of seconds. MacTavish laboured across the finish line to defend his 200m F/C (02.13.94) County Title together with a Season's Best 100m Butterfly (01.07.83) Gold-winning swim. A battle between the two regulars ensued over the final race of the day - 100m IM - MacTavish again just out-touching Osman for the win (01.09.28). At the other end of the decade-spectrum, Richard Osman (65-69yrs) battled through an impressive seven-race programme, taking Gold in all but the 50m Breast (01.00.68) over local rival Alan Lowth of Fareham Nomads. 

Seb Brindley (30-34yrs), fresh from recent Masters Level-X success over the Summer, backed up some impressive Freestyle swims with Gold in the 50m F/C (00.26.42), but pipped to the finish by Basingstoke Bluefins' Matthew Wright on the 100m F/C (00.58.92) and 50m Butterfly (00.29.10)  to miss out on a hat-trick. Newcomer Matthew Nash (18-24yrs) went up against stern competition from Portsmouth Northsea and Havant and Waterlooville National-Level qualifiers to take Gold in the sprint distances of 25m F/C (00.14.35) and 25m Butterfly (00.15.44), settling for Silvers over the 50m distances. Duncan Lip (45-49yrs) came close to best-ever times over the 100m F/C (01.14.12) and 50m F/C (00.32.74) to secure Top.5 finishes in an increasingly tough field.

The fun really begins with the Mixed Relays - Southampton Masters proving their depth over their rivals by being the only Club to field teams in all three Age Groups. The 72yrs+ Division (Nash/MacTavish/Baillie/Carroll) found themselves in plenty of splash from a resolute Basingstoke Bluefins Team, the two quartets ahead of the field for the top two podium finishes, Silver being the outcome for the Reds. The 120yrs+ again battled the Bluefins for glory over both Medley and F/C (Aldridge/C.Osman/Brindley/Dicker) but a invigorated Basingstoke quartet through Masters regular and British Record Holder Martin Bennell was enough to overpower Southampton by little more than a second on both races. The 200yrs+ produced amazing swims (R-Osman/Lip/Neustadt/Van Leeuwan) to swipe Silver in the F/C relay over a seasoned Fareham Nomads and Havant and Waterlooville squads, trailing behind the newly-formed South Down Trojans SC led by Jo and Tony Corben. 

Overall, it was the enjoyment of having the County Masters Clubs together again once more under the same roof - safely and securely thanks to the relentless efforts by Officials and Volunteers that made the event possible - that proved to be the highlight of the afternoon. With so many other County districts having to postpone their Masters Championships for yet another year due to struggles with pool time and support, Hampshire ASA is indeed lucky and privileged to be able to realise such important events at a critical time for the sport. We hope this momentum continues into the SER Short Course Championships in October and indeed, the long-awaited Swim England National Masters event in Sheffield. 

GOLD : 36

SILVER : 22

BRONZE : 9

TOTAL : 67

James MacTavish

City of Southampton Masters Coach