Southampton Masters shine in Sheffield

James MacTavish

2019 saw the last time Southampton Masters made the trip to the Steel-City of Yorkshire, the venue of Ponds Forge always proving popular with its so called 'magic water' (as many a coach will tell you, a pool is a pool...although I'll confess to being amazed at what the Sheffield site can do to your Personal Bests!) and the three-day Swim England Masters Short Course Championships quickly selling out across only a few days of entries first opening. A full capacity programme saw over 2,000 discipline representatives on show from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, partaking in a full Olympic programme together with the always enjoyable Mixed Relays (now a staple of the Olympics...we thought of it first!) 

High performance entries from Loughborough and Birmingham Universities, as well as stalwarts in Trafford Metro, Spencer SC and of course local rivals Basingstoke Bluefins meant initial prospects for medal-winning opportunities from Southampton Masters looked slim - however, when you have long-distance behemoth Fiona Carroll (30-34yrs) in your pack anything is possible. The Masters Open Water Champion from earlier in the year took the first event of the long weekend by storm and claimed the 1500m FC National Title (18.36.24) to kick things off for Reds, dropping down to the sprint-styling of 400m FC (04.43.15) the following Saturday for a splendid Sliver behind regular rival Rebecca O'Brien of East Leeds. Kieran Beckett (18-24yrs) was somewhat of a last minute addition to the Sotonian contigent, but certainly a welcome one, as two lifetime bests in the 50m Fly (00.24.77) and 50m FC (00.23.32) saw a second Gold fall the Team's way, together with a tidy Bronze behind two formidable Loughborough University entries...the celebrated British Performance Centre proving quite the party spoiler for Beckett as equally strong 100m FC (00.52.05) and 100m Fly (00.56.82) could only manage Fifth and Ninth respectively. 

Melissa Dolby (25-29yrs) squared up against Haslemere and Rushmoor Royals rivals over the 50m Fly (00.28.80), clocking a Personal Best and snatching the final podium spot in the process. However, despite a string of new best times, Dolby proved the 'nearly-girl' with a hatrick of Fourths over the 50m FC (00.27.24), 100m FC (00.59.11) and 100m IM (01.07.35), again, pedigree Performance Students unhinging things a little. Hannah Darbyshire (25-29yrs) matched her age-group compatriot with lifetime bests in the 100m FC (01.04.71) and 100m Backstroke (01.13.48) for Top.20 placings. 

Newcomer Matt Nash (18-24yrs) has steadily been working his way through the pack and the placings - from County debut in June to Regional success last month. The 50m full-suite was completed, with a Personal Best in the 50m Butterfly (00.29.87) sliding under the coverted 30-second mark for the first time. At the other end of the age-range, James MacTavish (40-44yrs) made a different natured debut in the new division, the middle distance events of 200m FC (02.11.64) and near-lifetime best in 200m IM (02.30.22) notching Top.5 finishes behind seasoned, Commonwealth medalist and former Southampton University representative Chris Jones (whom in fairness, has done his share of Red/White representation at Masters over the years!) Carl Halford (25-29yrs) signed off his final year in his Twenties with a snip off his Masters best in the 200m FC (02.06.41) and 100m Breaststroke (01.15.70) for Top.20 finishes, final race of 50m FC (00.25.80) taking the 29-year-old just within a fiercely contented event and Top.30 placing. 

It was fair to state that Southampton was caught napping a little when it came to relay entries - as with the individuals, events filled swiftly, and near a month before closing, everything from 4 x 50 Mens/Womens to Mixed 4 x 200 FC was at capacity. The final four relay spots available were snapped up...and thankfully, blessed the group with more medals. The Ladies 4 x 200 FC (100yrs+) was certainly not on the agenda for Carroll/Darbyshire/Dolby and the thankful sneek-in Sarah Aldridge (50-54yrs), but taking advantage of a weakened Friday evening field, earned the drained quartet a well-deserved Gold for their eight-length a-piece efforts. Similarly, the Men - Beckett/Halford/MacTavish/Nash - over the same event (72yrs+), whilst schooled entirely by Loughborough's Paris-24 Programme, got the better of Erith SC to take Bronze. The Ladies returned to close the Saturday with a final Team-Medal bathed in Bronze for the 4 x 100 Medley (100yrs+), giving favourites East Leeds and Trafford Metro a run for their money. 

Short Course Nationals for Masters is always a highlight of the calendar, and it was wonderful to see so many friendly faces again after the intense lockdown period - and the tireless efforts from the Officials and Volunteers that give up three long-days to support this money-maker for British Sport. Whilst a pricy venture, the hope is whilst Southampton Masters continues to grow, more and more will make the trip North, if only for a single day, just to enjoy the experience...given there really is nothing else like it over the UK (and who knows, if entries fall right, you might come away as a National Masters medalist - got to be in it, to win it!) 


GOLD : 3




James MacTavish

CSSC Masters Coach

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