Bicester Blue Fins sent a record-breaking squad of 18 swimmers to compete in the ASA South East Region Open Water Championships at the Chichester Watersports Club in Westhampnett, Sussex.
The town’s small but ambitious club had the second highest number of accepted entries of all clubs in the region comprising Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex and the Channel Islands.
On a sunny day, Bicester’s swimmers lived up to their potential and didn’t disappoint the watching crowd.
In the male 3,000m event, 15-year-old Kieran Bird again showed why he’s one of the hottest talents around. He was the first of 25 swimmers to complete the six circuits of the lake in a time of 39:02.40mins, claiming the overall open championship as well as the gold medal and regional championship for his age group.
Eleven-year-old Maddy Powell produced a remarkable swim in the female 1,500m event. Covering a distance almost twice as long as any competitive event she’s entered before and against 22 swimmers of all ages, she finished second overall to not only claim a brilliant silver but also become age 12 regional champion for her gold medal winning time of 22:09.90.
Among the 29 finishers in the male 1,500m event was a stunning swim from 12-year-old Freddie Ashley-Sparks. He was fifth overall and became the age 13 regional champion and gold medal winner in an excellent time of 21:56.40.
His performance earns him a place at the National Open Water Championships in Sheffield in August where he’ll join Kieran and Maddy along with Lottie Wynne-Jones, all three having already qualified from prior events.
Bicester’s fourth regional champion is 50-year-old Andrew Pryce, whose time of 30:02.07 was good enough for 25th overall to secure gold for his age group. He was closely followed by 42-year-old Jonathan Whitley, who collected a well-deserved silver.
The club’s other podium finishers were led by 15-year-old Tom Thornley who was third in the 3,000m open category and won regional bronze in the age 16 group, while Josh Rowland was fifth overall in the same race, winning silver in the 15-year age group.
In the female 3,000m equivalent race, 14-year-old Sinead Vine-Nealon had an outstanding swim to finish fifth overall and pick up silver regional age group medal.
Ellie Falkner was a fraction of a second back in sixth, winning bronze in the age 16 girls. In the same event, Chloe Wanless was fifth in her age group and Neve Gascoyne 10th.
In the 1,500m events, other excellent age group swims from the Bicester squad came from Chiara Brown (4th), William Whitley (5th), Matty Thornley (5th), Alex Pryce (6th) and Ben Inness (8th).
Tim Ashley-Sparks was the oldest competitor but unfortunately had to withdraw due to injury mid-swim, while 11-year-old Tia Falkner took part in the 500m demonstration event, finishing seventh in a race intended for younger swimmers to get their first taste of open water swimming.
Head coach Struan McNeil said: “Open water swimming is a very different experience to what these swimmers have been used to in the pool.
“Aside from the obvious temperature difference, the lack of turns, distance and frenetic starts make this one of the toughest challenges they can face. For many it was their first swim in the open, so to compete against the best in the region and come away with every swimmer achieving a top ten finish in their age group is quite simply superb.
“I think they’ll get the open water bug now. As well as some of them having the National Championships to focus on, they’re already talking about entering some pier-to-pier events on the south coast later in the Summer!”