City of Oxford, fast becoming one of the UK’s foremost swimming clubs, looks set to have a bright future if the youngsters performing at a Leys pool gala on 2 May are anything to go by.
The club, which the previous weekend came fourth in the National Arena League finals after qualifying for the first time, staged the gala to enable some of its younger swimmers to gain experience of competition. Children aged 8-14 took part in back-to-back races, with some fantastic swimming on display and many personal bests racked up by the older participants.
With just a sprinkling of competitors from rival club Didcot Barramundi taking part, the atmosphere was hugely supportive, with plenty of cheering, and prizes for all those judged to have put in a special performance. Pride in the City of Oxford was evident, with many swimmers sporting temporary tattoos of the club’s logo, a red and blue ox, on their arms, backs and chests.
‘At first I was really nervous, but then when I swam I was fine,’ said Zinzi Spiller, 9, who was taking part in a gala for the first time. ‘It was really good fun and I’d like to enter for another one.’
Halfway through the event, all the swimmers held hands and formed a ring around the pool to do the hokey-cokey (pictured), a novel way to start the warm-up and one that put even the youngest competitors at ease.
Among the swimmers putting in eye-catching performances was 9-year-old Oliver Conway, who smashed his personal bests to swim the fastest times in his age group in the 100m backstroke, 50m butterfly, 100m individual medley and 100m freestyle. Zane Khan, also 9, proved fastest in the age group in the 200m breaststroke and 200m backstroke, and ran Oliver close in several events.
In the older age groups, 12-year-old Billy Wootton and 13-year-old Ed Sharp egged each other on in a highly competitive 100m backstroke, with Billy just edging it at the finish. Ed swam the fastest time of the day in the 50m butterfly, and Billy did the same in the 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle. George Rudd, 12, also had a good afternoon, swimming the fastest times in the 200m breaststroke, 100m individual medley and 50m breaststroke.
Among the younger girls, Ella Joyce, 8, and Lily Brabbin, 9, put in consistently quick swims, as did Ayanna Fulga, 10; Jasmine Johnson and Amy Orbell-Durrant, both 11; Priya Ahluwalia, 12; and Madeleine Ratcliffe, 13; all of whom swam the fastest times in their age group in at least two events.
The afternoon reached a climax with a gripping 200m butterfly race, featuring two of City of Oxford’s brightest prospects: Megan Smit, 11, and Erin Gilchrist, 12. Only five girls took part in this gruelling race, and Megan and Erin were still neck-and-neck with 25m to go when Megan found an extra gear from somewhere, putting in a dramatic sprint finish to come home first and smash her personal best for the event by nearly 30 seconds.
In April, City of Oxford reached the National Arena League finals, a prestigious competition that attracts the country’s top swimming clubs, which bring in their Olympic, Commonwealth and World Championship medallists to compete. The Oxford club is on a roll, and by supporting it, swimming fans in the city have a chance to get behind competitors who will surely prove to be stars at much bigger events in future.