21 Hemel swimmers attended the East Region 2016 Open Water championships at the Whitlingham Outdoor Education Centre near Norwich on Sunday 19th July, the first time the Club has supported this event, and the first open water swim for most of our entrants. The event, was a huge success, with Hemel swimmers returning with 2 regional gold medals, 3 regional silver and 3 regional bronze medals. The event was combined with the Hertfordshire County Open Water Championship with Aimee Abrey and Alice Fender now the Open and Junior County Champions in the 800m event and Hemel swimmers also winning 9 county gold medal and 6 county silver medals. But above all it was great fun!
A 6am alarm, a 2 hour drive up the M11 and A11 (and back again 5 hrs later) for an 800m swim didn’t fill me with joy. My sense of foreboding deepened with a sign on the walk from the car park which said “Do not swim, drink the water … in Whitlingham’s broads. The algae can cause irritation to the skin and vomiting and can be fatal to dogs.” Not your usual swimming event then!
But it was all uphill from there. The venue was superb and fully equipped to cater for a wide range of aquatic sports. The event was immaculately organised, swimmer briefings were crystal clear, the courses were clearly marked out with buoys and there were plenty of canoes and motor boats to monitor swimmers in case they got into trouble. The finish was down a funnel marked with buoys to a banner stretched across the course which swimmers had to reach up and touch as they passed under it; if you watched the open water swimming at the Olympics it would all be very familiar.
Spectators sat on the edge of the lake a short walk away from the start but the safety briefings and a race commentary were broadcast to the spectator area. More experienced or organised parents turned up with gazebos, chairs and picnics making it feel more like a beach than a swimming competition, although a barbeque at one end of the “beach” did good trade. If you could see less of the course than in a pool, it was a considerably more pleasant viewing experience, and one where the only reason for feeling hot was because of the sun!
Before their races swimmers were issues with a numbered hat and had the number written on their arms and back. Finger and toe nails were inspected and trimmed where necessary; the starts and turns could get quite congested and aggressive and even with all these precautions there were still some scratches.
And so to the swimming. For most of the day the wind was light and the water a reasonable temperature, if cooler than a swimming pool. There were no reports of fish being sighted (!), although there was some build up of weeds toward the finish.
The structure of the competition take a bit of explanation. There were 800m, 1.5k. 3k and 5k events. Swimmers participated in “waves” rather than heats. Each wave was generally single gender but some were mixed. In each event injust the one swim it was possible to compete in the following competitions:
- Regional Championship – open and under 16 for each gender
- Regional age groups for each gender
- Herts County Championship – open and under 16 for each gender
- Herts County age groups for each gender.
In other words, if like Aimee Abrey you were the second fastest woman in the region over 800m you won a silver in the regional championship, a silver in the regional age group competition, a trophy as the County Open Water champion, a gold medal as the fastest woman in the county and a gold medal as the fastest 17+ woman – not a bad haul for an 800m swim Aimee!
In the 3 kilometre race 13-16 age group, Harrison Newbury Kemp won a County silver, and Tony Gaines in the 40/49 age group won county gold!
In the 800m “novices” race 13/14 age group, Alice Fender won a Regional Silver and is the Junior County Champion as well as winning gold in her age group. Sam Gaines won Regional Bronze and County Gold, Georgia Purkis Regional Bronze and County Silver, and Jonny Farrow won County Silver. In the 15/16 age group, Shaminah Sherwani-Keeling won Regional Bronze and County Gold and Chloe Purkis won County Silver. And in the 17+ age group.
In the 1.5k Max Jelfs won County Silver in the 12/16 age group and in the 20/24 age group Jack Spence won Regional and County Golds, and Tom Sherriff won Regional and County Silvers. In the 25/29 age group, Head Coach Justin Langford won Regional and County Gold and finally in the 50/59 age group Coach Alan Coldwell won County Gold in his first competitive outing for the Club.
Other swimmers who participated were Eleanor Bevan, Joe Coldwell, Chris Cox, Ben Davies, Elliott Davies, Lois Goad and Millie Herbert.
A thoroughly enjoyable experience which we hope to repeat and which is recommended to everyone who didn’t take part.