Worcester Swimming Club’s pair perform well at Welsh National Championships over Easter

Worcester duo Olivia Fletcher and Matt Richards travelled down to the Wales National Pool in Swansea over Easter for the Welsh National Championships. The pair, who both turned 12 in December, were competing in the 13 year age category against the best welsh competitors.

They were joined there by two of Worcester’s “away” swimmers, Harry Bamforth who attends and swims for Ellesmere College in Shropshire, and Tabby Monkhouse who now attends and trains at University in Swansea.

The event was due to take place over four days, between Good Friday and Easter Monday and the youngsters started well on their first day. First event up for the duo was the 50M Backstroke, and both laid down markers for their competition. Matt was first up, making a Personal Best (PB) and qualifying for the Final in 1st place. This was closely followed by Olivia, also making a good PB and qualifying for her Final in 2nd place! A great start.

This level of effort was replicated across the first two days, with both of them making PBs across a number of events and qualifying for the Finals in every event they competed in. On Friday Olivia also qualified for the 100M Freestyle in 1st place, whilst Matt went on to qualify for the 200M Individual Medley (IM) in 1st place.

The Finals took place in the evening sessions on both days. On Friday Matt was first up in his 50M Backstroke and posted yet another PB, leading the race from start to finish and touching the wall first to become the new Welsh Champion in 32.69 seconds! It was a strong performance from Matt, looking comfortable for the win right from the start when he surfaced after the dive last, but already ahead of his competitors. Olivia’s 50M Backstroke was next and she also produced another very strong performance to touch the wall in second place, earning a well deserved Silver medal. Olivia was shortly up again in her 100M Freestyle Final, which saw an enthralling race between her and Medi Harris from Swim Gwynedd performance centre. Olivia led from the start and held off challenges all the way to the end when she and Harris both thrust their arms out for the finish. To the naked eye it was impossible to split the pair and all eyes flashed to the electronic scoreboard. Both had made excellent times, but sadly Olivia was pipped by 0.15 seconds, finishing in a very strong 1.03.10 to again claim a fantastic Silver medal. Matt returned to the fray shortly after this for his 200 IM Final. In the Final his competitors stepped up several gears and Matt had to dig deep and fight hard. Three other swimmers went out fast and after the first three strokes (butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke) Matt found himself in 4th place with only the 50M Freestyle left, over 2 seconds behind the first place swimmer, Max Harris from Newport. At this point Matt found another gear and pushed off hard after the leaders. He swam a fantastic final length and quickly overhauled third and second places before kicking again after first place. The atmosphere was electric as Matt and Harris finished, again to the naked eye it was close to call, the scoreboard showed that Matt had been pipped by 0.3 seconds, but had taken Silver in a very strong new PB of 2.33.55.

Saturday saw similar results to Friday, and the pair continued their efforts. First up was the 50M Breaststroke heats, with Matt qualifying in fourth place for the Final and Olivia putting in a huge performance to qualify for the Final in second place, only 0.01 seconds behind the first placed swimmer! Next up was the heats of the 100M Backstrokes, with both posting excellent swims to qualify for their Finals in second place. Next up was the heats of the 200M Freestyle and both swimmers again made their Finals, with Olivia qualifying in first place, whilst Matt had a tougher swim and qualified in seventh place.

In the Finals on Saturday the Worcester duo were ready again and did not disappoint the excited family and friends in the stands. In the 50M Breaststroke Matt went first and produced an excellent swim to post a significant big new PB, finishing in a strong 39.35 seconds. However Olivia took to the water next and produced an exceptional swim, leading from the dive to the finish, holding off a huge challenge from Cerian Harries from Swim Gwynedd performance centre. The girls were nip and tuck all the way down the finish, with Olivia repeatedly picking her pace up to react against Harries challenge, the final touch was again exceptionally close, this time only 0.05 seconds split the pair!! However, on this occasion, Olivia was not to be beaten and she was crowned Welsh Champion in a time of 36.63 seconds. The Club now had TWO Welsh National Champions!

Next up was the 100M Backstroke Finals. In the boys event Matt went a full second quicker than his qualifying time, which in itself had been a PB! He touched the wall in 1.11.89 which was quicker than the qualifying time set by the eventual winner, Theo Savva from City of Cardiff, but was only enough for Silver in the final. However Matt’s time was a full two seconds clear of the bronze medal swim. It was another strong performance. Olivia attacked her Final from the start and led after the first 50 metres, before being overhauled on the second length by Medi Harris again. Olivia posted a very strong time of 1.11.42 to take another Silver medal.

Going into the 200M Freestyle Finals Matt knew he would have a difficult race, having only qualified in seventh place. The youngster concentrated on a skilful swim, taking two seconds off his morning time and finishing the Final in a respectable 5th place. In the girls Final Olivia knew that she would face another tough race against Medi Harris from Gwynedd. Olivia started well and attacked from the start. She and Harris swam away from the competitors and posted very strong times, with Olivia taking another Silver medal in a time of 2.15.24.

So, after a great first two days, the swimmers left for their hotel overnight, unaware that this would be the untimely end of the weekend. Sadly on Sunday morning when the pool was opening up for the day, three lights smashed in the pool hall, showering glass into the water and poolside. The team at Swim Wales did all they could to try and recover the day and clean the pool. However it was to no avail and obviously safety had to be the priority, with no one wanting to risk swimmers inhaling glass fragments. Days three and four were sadly postponed and no more swims would take place.

This was hugely frustrating for Matt and Olivia as both were looking strong favourites to win more medals and, indeed, looked like they would win more Titles with some favourite events to come.

The pair now move on to the Derventio Excel Open Meet on 11th/12th April, again hoping to post quick times in the qualifying window for the summers British Championships and Home Nations Championships. Club Chairman Simon Richards said “I’m very proud of Matt and Olivia for their efforts this weekend. They performed brilliantly throughout and showed their skilful swimming across all the strokes. Their medals and Title wins were well deserved rewards for their efforts. To be able to come home to training with two Welsh National Champions is a magnificent achievement! It’s also worth praising the reactions of both swimmers to the disappointing end to the weekend, they both were very grown up and mature handling the news.”