This July several of our Senior swimmers were finally able to get back to competition after more than 15 months of covid lockdowns. Nine SWSC swimmers travelled to the modified Summer National Long Course meet in Bangor, County Down. Unlike previous years there were no age groups and qualifying times were tighter, with morning heats leading to A and B Open finals spread over three days. Health restrictions meant only swimmers, coaches and officials could enter the actual pool, with parents being reduced to intermittent observation from the pool restaurant. I was lucky to be allowed to attend as a coach assisting Richard Cassidy, and was delighted to be back at an actual competition. Our swimmers swam 22 events and to our delight, 14 were in personal best (PB) times. This indicated a faster than expected return to pre-pandemic form, and may have been aided by the four-times a week online exercise sessions during the lockdowns.
Andrew Feenan, training at NAC Limerick where he is enrolled in the University, was our only swimmer not to have long periods out of the water during the lockdowns because of membership of one of the Swim Ireland Elite squads. In his best events, the 50, 100 and 200 breast strokes, he finished 4th, 3rd and 2nd. These are probably the most competitive events for Irish swimmers Internationally, with Darragh Greene being part of the nine strong team at the Tokyo Olympics. Andrew’s 200 is now consistently at 2:15 (WR 2:06) down from races of 2:20+ a year ago.
Sharon Semchiy, now a second year UCC student, achieved the best result with a win in the 50m Fly and 2nd in the 100 Fly A finals. Both swims were PBs and the 50 time of 28.76 broke Emma Cassidy’s long standing club record.
Andrew’s younger brother Mike finished 6th in the 200 breast stroke A final in a best time. Marc Galland had a PB by almost two seconds in a highly competitive 100 free, while James Ryan was 3rd in the 100 back A final, again with a best time.
The other four female swimmers all performed excellently. Two of these, Anna Feenan and Beth Nolan were fresh from the stressful Leaving Cert year. Anna was narrowly second in the B final of the 200 free (like the Men’s 100 and 200 freestyles, these were by far the most competitive events), whereas Beth was 3rd in the 200 back A final in an almost one second PB.
Our younger competitors Lauren Farr and Isabel Kidney, both born in 2007, swam five and four events respectively and each had four PBs. Laurens best placing was 4th in the 200 back A final, whereas Isabel was 5th in the 50 breast stroke A final.
Overall these are excellent long course times after a two year hiatus and bode well for the upcoming season. The major events in the autumn will be the SC Munster and National Championships.
As noted in early April, Liam Custer, Andrew Feenan and Sean O’Riordan were selected to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic trials, which many of you watched on TV. Liam travelled over from Florida especially for this meet, observing all of the required health regulations. He finished second in the 800 and 1500 free events in times very close to his PBs. Because of continuing travel difficulties he then elected to stay in the USA. He subsequently swam in the US Olympic trials (often regarded as a more competitive competition than the Olympics themselves), where he improved his ranking in the 1500 from 34th to 25th. In the trials, Andrew swam to a SWSC record of 1:02.99 in the 100 breast stroke and a good PB of 2:15+ in the 200 breast stroke. Neither reached the very difficult Olympic QTs but both are on upward trajectories that look good for the future.
Sean improved his pre-pandemic 400 free PB by a second but failed to reach the tough Tokyo Paralympic QT of 4:34. Unlike Andrew he had not been able to train consistently through the latter nine months of 2020 and this longer event, which requires large amounts of consistent training, obviously suffered. All three are to be congratulated on their achievements in being selected to participating in the trials. We hope to have many more swimmers doing so in future!
It now looks like open water swimming will be possible in May and that the pools may be able to reopen in June. Swimmers-all of your efforts to keep engaged during to worst of the lockdown will pay off in a rapid return to great performances. After all these land exercise sessions your athletic ability is now better than ever!
Meanwhile elite training has continued, culminating in the Olympic and Paralympic trials this week (April 20-24) in Dublin. SWSC have three competitors, Andrew Feenan, Sean O’Riordan and Liam Custer. And our Head Coach Richard Cassidy will be attending the meet, which is being held under very strict health regulations.
Andrew, who is part of the National Squad and has been training with John Szaranek in NAC Limerick where he attends UL, will swim his two best events-the 100m and 200m breast stroke. In a recent time trial he improved his PB in the 200m by three seconds. Tapered he should be able to challenge both times. Ironically, these are the events in which Ireland has its best competitors so his major aim will be to maintain his great progress and qualify for International meets in future years.
Sean will compete in the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle in the Paralympic trials. He has the best chance of qualifying in the 400 but the QT is a very tough 4:34. He swam this event for Ireland in the Para World Championships in 2018 but the QT was then 4:48. His best before lockdown was 4:41. After an interrupted 2020, he has been training in the NACs in Limerick and Dublin since Christmas, and has just returned from a 10day camp in Tenerife, so hopefully his fitness has returned and improved.
Liam, who hails from Sarasota Florida, has been a valued member of SWSC for several years. Since he holds joint US and Irish passports, he is eligible to declare for Ireland. He is one of the best 16 year olds in the USA, and will compete in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles at the trials. Since his 800 and 1500 times are better than the Irish U19 Junior records, he should have a good chance of qualifying for this summer’s European Junior Championships in Rome. We applaud his efforts to get to Ireland which were greatly facilitated by Jon Rudd and his team in Swim Ireland!
I am sure you will all be watching their endeavours! And let’s hope all the rest of you can back in the water as soon as possible!
I want to begin by wishing all competitors, their parents, our coaches and teachers, committee and sub-committees, and all members-including Masters, a very Happy New Year. Two thousand and twenty one should eventually be much better than 2020 because of the roll out of the vaccines. However, it is obvious that it will take some months to get out of the present serious situation. Meanwhile let’s be as positive as possible!
Thank you all for your efforts and major enthusiasm in 2020. Swimmers- you did far more land work than in previous years, and this increased athleticism transferred to the pool, allowing you to maintain or even improve competitive times. We will continue with remote exercise sessions this month. If you have ideas of other things the club might offer, then let us know.
Competitive swimmers are by definition extremely organised individuals. They have to be to balance academic life at school or college with the demands of elite swimming. (And they are often the best scholars!) With lockdowns and remote learning it may be necessary to plan your own days. The most important thing is not to feel isolated either academically, swimming-wise or socially. Ask questions! Keep in regular contact with your friends.
Several of you are in your Leaving Certificate year. If you are finding the demands of swimming too much, then work out a reduced programme with your coaches. But do not quit altogether! You have probably heard about the findings of an English neurologist that aerobic exercise improves brain function and academic performance. We hope you will continue to swim for the next few years. Most people can improve greatly in their early 20s with a good programme. Let us know if we can help with future choices!
You were all very enthusiastic in the pre-Christmas time trials. Unfortunately, the progress of the pandemic prevented these from being completed properly. The Swim Ireland idea was to introduce a virtual competition between clubs, including those from Britain. The first competitions allowed this spring will probably be intra club time trials and your coaches will work with SI to introduce a major inter-club competitive element.
When you got back in the water in early December it was envisaged that the SC Nationals would go ahead. Twenty eight of our swimmers qualified-a record number! However this format was cancelled because of the disease situation, much to the disappointment of most of our Senior squad. The meet went ahead in NAC Dublin in a much reduced form, restricted to elite swimmers (National squad members) and Paralympic Tokyo “possibles”. It was also decided to run SC events in the morning and LC of the same events in the evening. This is an arrangement that had been run in the USA earlier in 2020 and is very tough for the swimmers. We had two swimmers involved; Andrew Feenan who is on the National Squad and has been training in NAC Limerick with John Szaranek since the end of the first lockdown in July and is enrolled in UL, and Paralympian Sean O’Riordan who is in 3rd Speech & Language Therapy in UCC and holds a Sports Scholarship there. Andrew recorded a great series of breast stroke PBs-the 50, 100 and 200 LC; and 100 and 200 SC, where his 1:02.01 and 2:14.30 were club records. This was in a meet where there were very few PBs. Sean recorded PBs in the 50 freestyle and breaststroke and was near his best in the 400 SC free, but struggled in the LC event; the latter demonstrating the effect of the lockdown on fitness for longer events. Much more difficult qualifying times have been introduced for the Tokyo Paralympics than for the previous World Championships (in which Sean qualified), and the 400 freestyle is the only event in which he is in reach of qualifying.
Meanwhile our US member Liam Custer was far less affected by lockdown since he trains in a club-controlled outdoor 50m pool in Florida with Sarasota Sharks. This pool is 25 yards wide and was set up during 2020 with a large number of SCY lanes with two swimmers in each maximising social distancing by starting from opposite ends. Outdoor meets were also possible and Liam recorded a remarkable series of LCM times in late autumn (Free: 200 1:55.46; 400 3:58.14; 800 8:09.69; 1500 15:35.69; 200 Back 2:05.29; 400 IM 4:28.23). Both the 800 and 1500 qualify for the US Olympic trials and importantly surpass the current Irish Junior Records. These records are for U19 swimmers and Liam is currently 16! We look forward to him swimming with SWSC when he is next permitted to visit Ireland.