Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Over 100 Scots prepare to compete at the European Masters Championships 2016

With the Arena European Masters Championships 2016 taking place in the UK this week, over 100 Scots will be travelling to London to compete.  With thousands of additional training hours in pools all over the country, Masters swimmers are determined to put in a good show at the Aquatics Centre in Stratford.  That additional training may shed a little light on the performances at the recent Scottish Short Course Championships in April, at Aberdeen’s Aquatic Sports Centre.  There were 50 new Scottish, 11 British and 2 European records set, some of them smashing marks set decades ago.

25 year old Mark Campbell set a new Scottish 100m breaststroke record in the 25-29 category.   Mark’s time of 01:02.63 bettered David Wilkie’s 01:04.63 that was set in 1980.  Mark also set Scottish records in the 50m breaststroke and 100m Individual Medley.

Aberdeen Dolphins’ swimmer Mark says, “I knew the 100m breaststroke was a big one, so I had targeted that one and I’m pleased with my time.  I think I can go faster and I know there are maybe nine or ten young guys coming through who can swim faster still.  Sixty two seconds is a decent time, but Scottish swimming is in a decent place at the moment.”

Mark has just started Masters Swimming after just missing out on a place in the 2014 Commonwealth Games team.  Mark says, “Masters is great. The training is very different to what I’ve done before; you go from maybe eight sessions a week down to four one-hour sessions, so that really appeals to me.  I’ve not really focused on records before, because when you’re up against the times people like Ross Murdoch can achieve, there isn’t much point.  On the other hand, swimming against great swimmers forces you to up your own game.  There are so many good breaststrokers in Scotland right now - every competition you go to, you have to be swimming at your very best.”

30 year old Silver City Blues swimmer Ed Rafipay set four new records at the event in the 30-34 age category, in the 50m front crawl, 50m breaststroke, 50m butterfly and, 100m Individual Medley.  In the 100m IM his time of 00:59.75 beat David Wilkie’s 01:01.60, a record which stood for thirty years.    

Ed says, “I swam competitively when I was a teenager at Bath University but gave it up until last year.  I think it is important that your training plans are as intelligent as possible, so rather than just swimming thousands of lengths, you have to work on your technique, eat properly out of the pool and work on the mental side of things as well.  At the Scottish Championships I did nine races in thirty six hours; in each race you’ve got to really go for it, then wind down, then get your mind focused on the next race.  It’s tough, but great when you get it right.”

“I think we’re all aware of the records, but the one record you want to beat is your own.  I’m not going to say it isn’t nice to be a record holder, but if I’m near to, or beating, my personal best, then I’m going to be delighted with my swim”. 

That sentiment is something Carlisle swimmer Judy Hattle agrees with, saying “You go out to swim your best and if you happen to break a record, it sets a marker for somebody who is younger than you to aim for when they are coming up.”

Judy sets the marker bar rather high – with two new European Records at Aberdeen in the 50m butterfly and 200m individual medley in the 55/59 age group.  She also won the decathlon which scores a swimmer over ten events and then corrects for age across the different categories.  Judy has won the decathlon at the Scottish Championships every year for the last decade. 

Judy says, “I swam for Scotland as a teenager, but a back injury stopped me swimming.  I paddled occasionally at work and then a Masters club formed in Carlisle and I got back into swimming when I was thirty seven.  I think most swimmers will be aware of the records in their age group and if you can hit the Scottish, you then aim for the British, the European and maybe the World.  But it really depends on what the record is and where you are with Masters and with life.  Your circumstances will change as you go through the age groups – work life, personal life, family life, injuries, personal fitness are all variable factors, but when everything is going well, you can get some good times.  The European record that I broke in the 50m butterfly has stood since 2000, so that was a good one to get.”

Judy knows that her records will be good motivation for other swimmers.  She says, “That’s fine – that’s what it is all about.  In a race we all want to swim better than we’ve ever swam before and better than those around us and those who have come before us.  There are more people coming into the sport and staying in the sport and swimming at a higher level, so it is much more competitive than it used to be.

Ten years ago at the British Nationals in Sheffield, Judy set a world record in the 100m butterfly in the 45-49 age group, shaving 15 hundredths of a second of a record set by United States swimmer Laura Val a decade earlier.  Judy says, “That was special – the records set by the Americans tend to be difficult to beat”.

At the European Masters this week, there will be nearly 30,000 swims over the five days of competition.

Mark Campbell says, “The Europeans will be my first Long Course competition, but I’ve had a look at the programme and I think I can be up there challenging for medals.  But I’ll be up against guys I’ve never raced before, so I’ve no idea what standard they’ll be swimming at – it will be interesting!”

Ed Rafipay says, “I’m competing in the 50m breaststroke, the 50m butterfly and the 50m front crawl.  You never know, I might get some records while I’m there.  The record I really want in my age group is the 100m breaststroke, which Kris Gilchrist holds.  I got his 50m breaststroke record in Aberdeen, but I didn’t get the 100m.  Kris was an Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer, so to beat his times would be immense”.

Judy Hattle says, “I’m competing in the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.  I’m not far off the time for the 100m butterfly, so that would be something nice to aim for.”

The European Masters Championships takes place at the London Aquatics Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 25-29 May.  Good luck to everyone!

Article courtesy of Chris Kane.  Read more of our Swim Social interviews/Blogs