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News December 2021

Keep up to date with what's happening at Dartes and performance swimming in Doncaster. This page records the news as it happens -- history in the making!

The Stories behind the Headlines

Strong Start to Long Course Season at Northampton

18 Dec 2021: The New Year generally marks the beginning of long course season. At that point, Phase 5 will generally switch exclusively to the 50m pool as they work up to the national qualifying window and all the major championships (Phase 4 will mix it up a little). Since 2019 we've started that a little early, by travelling to the Corby International Pool for the Northampton Winter Festival. It's the first Level 1 meet of the season and attracts some big clubs we don't normally race against, such as the giants from London: Barnet Copthall; Leicestershire's performance pathway club: City of Leicester; and of course the hosts: Northampton themselves.

The Team at Northampton We started the meet strong. By Saturday lunch time we were lying 2nd in the number of Gold medals won - 8. Barnet Copthall were leading with 9. Northampton and South Lincs were battling it out for third, with the hosts edging ahead with 6. (This ignores disability medals - Northampton won every single one of those and featured in most events).

We finished day 1 in a similar position: Barnet 17, Dartes 12, but South Lincs had edged into 3rd with 11. There wasn't an official top club competition which is always a shame as it adds a little spice to things, but we'll create one for ourselves here. As the name suggests, that sort of competition does tend to favour the bigger club and often puts the hosts at a big advantage. With only 19 athletes this weekend, we certainly weren't a match for Barnet Copthall and Northampton who each brought around 50.

Over the course of the second day the strength of the big clubs showed, and we dropped back a little. By the time Callum Broadhead (Arm) wrapped things up with 100m Freestyle Gold in the final heat of the day, we were lying 5th - but proudly the only club to score more Gold than we had swimmers.

2.Barnet Copt27172165
4.South Lincs25292377
5.Donc Dartes25161556
8.Camden Swiss81615
10.BoKirklees 64616
Very unofficial Top 10 Medal Table

Jenson Owen (Edl) returned home as Dartes MVP for the weekend, winning 7 Gold medals and forced to settle for Silver in his 8th event by just 0.09sec. He was one of 11 athletes with a full suite of long course PB's from the weekend. The biggest PB going to Kennedy Matthews (Arm), knocking 48sec off her 400m Freestyle best. She was another with a full set of long course PB's, including a 27sec improvement to win Gold at 200m Butterfly.

The usual headline grabbers were in action again too. Molly Chambers (Drn) opened her long course campaign in the same way she finished short course. Gold for 200m Butterfly, lowering her big pool best to 2:20. Then after losing her short course 100m club record to training partner Maddie at Winter Nationals, set out determined to claim the long course version. Another Gold to set the club record at 1:03.47. After all the drama she made in dipping beneath 30sec in the short course 50m sprint, no such fuss long course. First attempt and down to 29.20 - faster even than her short course equivalent!

By contrast Madison Johnson (Arm) suffered mixed fortunes this weekend. Sometimes things don't go to plan, and we all know how frustrating that can be. Her 200m Butterfly was one such occasion, leaving coach and swimmer rather perplexed - albeit winning Gold. But she bounced back for the 50m Butterfly to claim a new club record in 28.87, and to equal her age-group record in the 100m 1:05.27. Silver and Gold for those two.

We've already heard about Callum's 100m Freestyle Gold, it was two for two earlier on Sunday with the 50m Butterfly. A 2sec PB gives him both Dartes age-group records in this event for a 14 year old, having taken the short course at Winter Nationals two weeks before.

Sticking with Butterfly, there were a couple of notable performances by Louie Nightingale (Spa). His Gold at 50m inserts him as 4th fastest 13 year old among some big names, 28.73 is a fast time. He also looked very strong at the bigger fly events too. Some hard work in the training pool over the next few months should see some big improvements.

It's a shame Greta Highfield (Ros) didn't enter any Butterfly events. Her opening 100m of 400m IM matched her short course PB set just last month and looked ever so strong. It earned her one of the four Gold medals she won across the weekend. It was one of the other three Golds that would achieve her highest FINA points score though. 521 points was her reward for holding pace with the leaders through most of her heat of 400m Freestyle. A solid 20sec PB set in both of those 400m events.

With Covid cases on the rise, it was a strictly controlled meet. Tests were necessary before arrival each day and no one was getting in without evidence. Masks were also largely mandatory poolside when not in your team's pod. There were the usual killjoys moaning that the meet shouldn't have run under such conditions (just like we had with our meets earlier in the season), but the measures in place were minor inconveniences at worst and the opportunity to race long course before Christmas was valuable. We had plenty of room poolside this year, and took up one side of the 20m swim down pool. It gave us plenty of space to execute pre-pool before each session, and Saturday morning especially looked a class act with the entire team warming up together. Well done to all.

Our final pair of Golden girls brought home another 200m Butterfly gold for Grace Burton (Arm) and Cazia Martin (Arm) did likewise in the 200m Freestyle with a 20sec PB.

As with every meet report, there's a lot more going on than we can include in a few paragraphs. Today we picked the Gold medallists at the expensive of everyone else. With an 87% PB ratio and a lot of events being attempted for the first time long course, there were plenty of other excellent performances too. With the arrival of long course season, it's also important to stress the need to resist comparing long course and short course times. The longer the race, the more different they become. Conversions should only be used for event qualifying, not for comparison.

Snow Storm for the Young Ones

6 Dec 2021: The first week of December was extremely busy with involvement in three meets. During the week Head Coach Dave took our older athletes to Winter Nationals. Then on the Sunday the club hosted Swim-Along-A-Santa. Finally on Monday evening Coach Rob took our youngest to this little gem at Ponds Forge.

City of Sheffield host their Snow Storm meet every year as a way of introducing young athletes to competition. Unusually, it starts with 8 year olds (just for fun) and extends through 9 and 10 year olds for Swim England rankings. So just three age groups do battle over 50m - it's over in a flash.

Not sure of the standard expected, we rustled up an army of eight spanning Phase 2 and Phase 3. Our vanguard of 10 year olds performed well with Darcy Nelson (Ros) opening her evening with Butterfly Gold, and following up with Bronze in Breaststroke and Freestyle. Freya Cooper (Adw) got in on the medal action too, with Silvers in Backstroke and Freestyle.

Having just turned 10 prior to the meet, Millie Dey (Arm) just missed out on the medals, finishing 4th in both Butterfly (behind Darcy) and Freestyle (behind Darcy and Freya), and 6th and 7th in Backstroke and Breaststroke. Consistently high finishes from her.

An exciting first meet for Lucia McLennan (Ros) saw her finish top 10 in everything except an unfortunate Breaststroke disqualification. Not a bad first shot, considering three girls ahead of her were Dartes team mates. A solid team in the making for Yorkshire Champs perhaps.

Jack Jones (Arm) made sure our two boys weren't overshadowed, bringing home Silver for Breaststroke and Freestyle, plus a Bronze in Backstroke. Alex Eggitt (Ros) also managed a couple of top 6 finishes in a field of 13, but just missed out on medals.

Surprisingly, it was our 8 year olds who made the biggest impact though. Or maybe, knowing the pair in question, it should surprise no one. Emilia Keefe (Spa) stormed to victory in the 50m Butterfly - only to be disqualified, oops. Never mind, Abigail Jinks (Ros) was on hand to claim the Silver medal anyway.

No such mistakes in the Backstroke with Emilia winning by 6sec from Abi who took Silver by another 3sec. Someone pressed replay for the Breaststroke, with Emilia winning by 8sec from Abi who again took Silver by another 4sec. Finally, the shell-shocked hosts could only look on for the Freestyle, as Emilia blasted her way to Gold for the third time. 7sec behind her was little Miss Silver once more, with Bronze trailing over 2sec back.

Our eight young stars brought the "weekend" to a fitting close with a fun evening of racing.

100m Butterfly Final at Winter Nationals

6 Dec 2021: Like every other major championships at the moment, qualification standards for Swim England Winter Nationals had been significantly lowered. That didn't affect our three who would have been inside the usual times anyway, but it did make for an extremely crowded meet that at times felt more like Regionals than Nationals.

That is, apart from it starting 7am Friday morning, advertising boards surrounding the competition pool, and the live professional commentary.

For most regions, having men and women competing simultaneously in different halves of the pool was also a novelty. For the North East, we've been doing similar for the last decade. It was however, a late adjustment to the schedule caused by far too many entries, and reduced recovery periods between races was the result.

So we rolled through Friday and Saturday morning feeling like any other meet. Nothing special just rather busy. Then Madison Johnson (Arm) qualified for the 100m Butterfly final and Saturday night everything changed!

Most don't realise that Ponds Forge has two sets of lights. The standard fairly dim ones, and the high powered, super bright (and expensive to use) lights they turn on for National finals. You can feel the difference when those illuminate, not just see it.

The highlight of Maddie's nationals every year appears to be the upbeat, musical marching arrival of the officials poolside for finals. That sets the mood for the evening and Saturday night didn't disappoint.
It was loud.
It got the crowd clapping.
The winds of anticipation blew around the pool hall.
Yep, this was now definitely Nationals!
It's one of the perks of qualifying for finals - the live stream is nothing like it.

When the stakes are at their highest, the atmosphere comes to life. The music filled the balcony introducing every swimmer behind the blocks. The big teams made sure their athletes were supported even above the volume of the music. The likes of Mount Kelly, Loughborough Uni, and Hamilton Aquatics squeezed themselves into the scoreboard end of the pool concentrating the volume for an electric, football stadium-style atmosphere.

Coming out behind the blocks for a final can be extremely intimidating the first time. Freezing like rabbits caught in headlights is a common reaction. The atmosphere needs to be soaked in prior to your turn. If/when you qualify for Nationals, be sure to take the opportunity to attend a finals session in person to get a feel for it - the live stream does not do it justice.

But that all happened Saturday night, let's go back to the beginning and enjoy a day off school on Friday.

Event 1 was the Mens 50m Freestyle, we had Callum Broadhead (Arm) competing as a Junior. Winter Nationals is really for 16s and over. Only the very best under 16s qualify as there are only two age groups: Seniors for everyone, and Juniors for the 16 and unders. The best 10 come back in the evening for the Senior final, the next 10 juniors contest the junior final.

At 14, Callum was one of the younger ones, and due to Covid this was his first taste of National level competition being part of the generation to have missed two years. It was also the first time since returning from lockdown that Callum could compete without the hinderance of an illness which has plagued him for months. The effects of that illness meant he would only be contesting the sprints due to missing months of training.

There's no holding back his raw speed though. A quarter second PB from NERs left him the fastest 14 year old in 24.24, lowering his Dartes age-group record and making him Doncaster's 3rd fastest ever. A good start to the meet.

Next up was Maddie's 200m IM. A little off her NER performances with a solid 2:24, but a packed programme followed for her. A much better swim in the 100m Freestyle at lunch time set her 2nd best time ever, and set her up nicely for day 2.

Between those events Molly Chambers (Drn) and Callie Ramshaw (Edl) braved the 200m Butterfly. Callie of course, our main lifeguard during the summer, had officially retired with the pandemic killing off training in 2019. Arriving at Sheffield Hallam for University saw her dip back in to regular training and her race times from 2019 Nationals qualified her for this weekend.

She was never going to match those times, but post-covid PBs were up for grabs and the smiles from competing again at the elite level were all that mattered. Callie returned on Saturday wearing a mix of kit (Dartes, Edlington, and Team Hallam) for the 400m Freestyle too.

For Molly, the 200m Butterfly brought another opportunity to continue destroying her PBs. This one had stood at 2:21.79 since the summer of 2018. Winter Yorkshires reduced it to 2:19 in October, and NERs almost saw it duck below that last month, our club record was now in sight at 2:18.48.

The target pacing for this one was something like 31, 35, 36, 36. Coach Dave was heard stressing the need to push for a 35 on the third 50m and hang on. Was a 1:05 first half likely to leave her struggling in the second? 1:06 had served her better in the final at NERs. Such considerations are important and understanding how to hit those times is a skill elite swimmers must manage. Going out too hard makes holding those back-end 36s very painful or impossible.

Molly has endured a weekly pair of big fly sets for months, maxing out at the 1800m mark (each). A mix of 100m, 75m, and 50m reps have been responsible for dropping chunks of time off all her Fly events (and Maddie's too). Swimmers will understand how painful that sounds. Now a month after NERs, was this the time to drop the next half second to claim that record. At 19, a spot in the senior final was probably unrealistic.

An aggressive first 50m looked easy and established her with the leading four or five in heat 8. Turning in 30.84 was fast, and set up a half way split of 1:05.54 - would it prove too fast? She was now lying 2nd in the heat, already ahead of target pace with the challenge of holding 35sec through the third quarter.

We've said it numerous times, but let's repeat it here: to hold pace on the third 50m of a 200, you must push very, very hard. On Butterfly even more so. If you manage it, you will pull away from those around you because not many will. Molly managed it: 35.92. It was a smidgen under 36, but they all count. There were now three girls in a line at the front of the race, with Molly challenging for 2nd or 3rd place every few strokes.

At the 150m mark all looked set for a big time. The danger of going out too fast becomes apparent on the last 50m. Many have realised too late and died a painful death. That happened here too, just as it has on many other occasions. But it wasn't Molly, it was the girl she was chasing down the last 25m for 2nd place. Entering the red zone Molly was definitely 3rd, the girl ahead suddenly tied up, a big 2m glide being all she could manage to the wall. Molly nailed her finish, as she so often does, and snatched 2nd in the heat by just 0.05.

Another PB by 0.85sec for what is probably her final short course 200m Fly with Dartes. If that is the case, a new club record brings that era to a fitting end in 2:18.18.

Saturday rolled around and with it a showdown between our Fly girls. The 100m club record had been claimed by Molly at NERs, taking it away from Ella Bainbridge (Arm) who would race today's heat in the lane next to Molly but wearing the cap of Mount Kelly. Five minutes before their heat 10, heat 8 would feature the return of Maddie for day 2.

Going in on a 1:04.10, Maddie was a considerable distance away from the 1:03.45 record and Ella's previous time of 1:03.49. But what's half a second, right? There was also an outside chance of a junior final to fight for. A fast 50 put her in the lead which she held to the 75m. Then she ploughed down the last 25m to touch in 1:03.40 to win the heat and steal the record from her team mate. You train for 16 hours each week for months, and race painful events, and it all comes down to a few hundredths of a second. Another tiny 0.05.

That new standard was destined to last about four minutes until Molly obliterated it in 1:02.99. Ella, struggling with injury, was a little off the pace.

Maddie finished 11th as first reserve for the junior final, or so we thought. One of her fellow 16 year olds had qualified for the senior final, so Maddie took her place and a second swim was hers.

A 1:02 feels like a big jump from starting the day at 1:04. She does tend to pull out big swims in finals though, and Saturday night was no exception. Touching the wall in 1:02.81 for 7th place - her best placing at Nationals thus far - she stole the record back from Molly.

She hadn't been far off reaching two finals that night either. The 100m IM saw her finish 16th, which after shuffling out the young guns qualifying for the Senior final left her as first reserve for the Juniors by just 0.03sec. Her 1:06.21 lowered her own club record for that event too.

Before any of that took part though, Callum was back for the 100m Freestyle. The longer distances have suffered most from his lack of training, but 53.71 still left him as 3rd fastest 14 year old. No prize for that of course, but a good starting point to build on now that his training can begin in earnest.

The final day brought with it the grueling 400m IM. A PB would have put Madison in the final, but after swimming more than 7,000m the day before and the late finals, she could only manage her 2nd best performance. A solid 5:04. We know there's more to come from that, but a good performance nonetheless.

Rounding off the long weekend was Callum in the 50m Butterfly. His 26.09 was the fastest time set by a 14 year old once again. Just like with his 50m Freestyle this gives him the Dartes age-group record and leaves him 3rd fastest all-time.

For Phase 5, Winter Nationals pretty much draws Short Course season to an end. For Molly that might even be her short course swansong. If it proves to be so, then breaking two club records from two events is a great way to end.