Bright lights, the Big City and what a splash we made. Competitors travelled from afar and entered their theatre of dreams; all with the hope of taking their place on the national podium, head above their rivals. A moment to shine encouraged magnificence to exude throughout each race that was swum and by the end of the day, there might have been many exhausted bodies, yet plenty of minds were still energised, motivated, determined to continue their journey, eager to return next year.
It all happened on Saturday 21 January at the London Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where the Independent Schools Association (ISA) hosted the 2017 National Swimming Finals. Seven regions had held their respective area events and from them emerged a national qualifier for, each event; 80 in total which equated to a remarkable 300 children from 8-19 years old and in total, over 100 schools were represented.
The event presented an opportunity for the top swimmers in the country, each an extraordinary athlete in their own right, to demonstate their talents on the biggest stage, the Olympic Pool. Unsurprisingly, extraordinary athletes produced extraordinarily outstanding performances. Overall, 21 national records were broken including a best time, previously held since 2005 by Olympian James Guy. This feat, achieved by Highfield Priory pupil, Oliver Covill, exemplifies the high quality of sporting performance on show. I for one, was full on envy.
The girls also followed suit and one particular girl, Olivia Herron from Cransley School now holds the national record for five different events. #thisgirlcan comes to mind; more like ‘this girl can, and will, and has done many times’! In a time when more funding than ever being streamed into women’s sport, the level of representation at this event is hopefully a sign that more girls are being inspired to invest and reinvest in sport.
As the day went on, producing more national champions, some of whom were lucky enough to be presented with their medals by Paralympian Ryan Crouch, an enthralling atmosphere was maintained throughout. Children as young as 8 years old were being cheered on by hundreds, supporting their respective regions right until their fingertips touched the timing pad; a fingertip quite often proving the margin between victory and a silver medal.
Typically, the event concluded with relays, quite often identified as the pinnacle of competition, the most exciting events where four individual performances contribute to a team. Despite the overall distance swum being greater, in almost every race, positions were still being decided on the final leg, sending pulses racing and the volume soaring through the roof. It was an apt conclusion to an event that comprised children who were representing seven different teams; the only event in fact whereby the team name is displayed in full on the results list. Congratulations must go the Midlands region for eventually achieving the crown of Overall Winners.
Finally, the conclusion of the event was celebrated. 80 new national champions, silver and bronze medallists had been discovered, hundreds of inspired children left with their heads held high, thousands of enthusiastic supporters; each with a dry throat strained from zealous chanting, headed home and one grateful Association thankful to everyone for contributing to yet another brilliant ISA sports event at the London Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.