Bicester Blue Fins’ Kieran Bird and Tom Thornley capped off an excellent season by winning three golds, two silvers and a bronze medal at the British Gas ASA National Junior Swimming Championships.
It’s the first time in the club’s 64-year history that they have produced national champions, and is a sign of the growing confidence and importance of the club at the highest competitive levels, with Bicester finishing the UK medal table in 13th place overall, higher than any of the other, much-larger clubs of Milton Keynes, Oxford and Maxwell in Aylesbury.
The championships took place at the impressive Olympic-sized Ponds Forge Pool in Sheffield, with the country’s best youngsters qualifying through heats into finals in what is the toughest junior swimming test in the UK.
The two 14-year-old Bicester boys were in sizzling form, with Kieran winning his first gold in the 200m butterley, where his new 2.04.85mins Bicester club record also smashed the South East regional junior record by a huge seven seconds and was only two seconds slower than the British junior record.
He then won a second gold in the 100m butterfly in another club record time, before claiming a silver in the 400m individual medley, again slicing a stunning six seconds off the regional record.
Bird continued to shine when he won a brilliant silver in the gruelling 1.5k open water swim, the first time he has attempted this discipline.
His fifth place in the final of the 200m individual medley was his third regional and club record of the week, while he was also fifth in the final of the 400m freestyle and 10th in the 200m freestyle.
Tom’s gold medal came in the 200m backstroke as he followed Kieran’s lead by breaking both the regional and club record with his time of 2.07.99, just a second slower than the British junior record.
His bronze in the 100m backstroke was also a regional record, and again just one second off the national best time.
In the individual standings, Kieran’s performances during the week earned him overall second place in the UK for a 14-year-old, with Tom fifth.
Blue Fins head coach, Struan McNeil, said: “I’m so proud of these two boys. Not only have they become Bicester’s first ever national junior swimming champions, but they’ve shown a maturity, focus and determination that makes the difference during the highest competitive test.
“This is the pinnacle of UK junior swimming and I’m confident they both have the talent and mental attitude to go even further in their careers.
“I’d also like to say a word about the support they receive from their families and friends – it’s not easy to get to championships like these, and as well as being proud of Kieran and Tom’s achievements, they can congratulate themselves on playing their part in getting them there.”
Commenting on the achievements of Struan McNeil, club chairman Chris Inness said: “I’d like to congratulate Struan and his coaching team on a magnificent week at Ponds Forge.
“When we hired him last year we had a specific objective of pushing to even higher levels of performance, and that’s precisely what’s happening at all levels across the club.
“He can feel rightly proud of his role in Kieran and Tom’s national winning achievements, but we’re also excited at the potential of the swimmers he’s coaching that are coming through the ranks –some of whom we expect to be competing at this highest level next year.”