The 50-week long swimming
year came to an exciting conclusion for Berkhamsted SC with the week-long English Summer National Championships at the iconic Ponds Forge facility in Sheffield.
With four swimmers representing the club in five events, it was a week that built to an exciting climax alongside Tring SC’s Sam Pye-Finch.
Berkhamsted’s James Chennells began the week with the 200m Freestyle.
By now an experienced competitor at this level following his debut in 2017, he knew what to expect.
The English Championship takes 20 swimmers in each age group for each stroke and distance, with very little separating the first seeds from the 20th.
Chennells was seeded 14th going in and was well aware that only a personal best (PB) would see him in with a chance of making the top 10 for the evening final.
After a solid first 50m in 27.19, he consolidated his position to halfway in 56.93 with good skills round the walls and a strong stroke.
As tiredness hit with just over 50m to go, his stroke started to shorten as he tried to pick up the pace and he touched in 1:58.54 – a PB by almost ¾ of a second and placed him 11th, just one place and just 2/10ths away from that elusive place in the final.
This swim improved his own club Open record from May.
Young Ella Nijkamp was next up in the 50m backstroke.
Making her debut at the Nationals at the age of just 13 following her superb victory in the East Region champs at the beginning of the summer, she was understandably nervous ahead of her race.
In the event, she posted her second fastest 50m backstroke with 32.45 and might be ruing her finish, which she said was not up to her normal standard as she too just missed out on a final, finishing 12th overall in the 13-years age group.
But she should be exceptionally happy with her first race at the Nationals level.
The last three events for the club’s athletes all happened on the Saturday.
With Ismail Rahim and Zac Patel lining up alongside Pye-Finch in the 50m fly, and Chennells up again in the middle distance 400m freestyle.
The flyers were first up with Tring’s Pye-Finch, also in his first nationals and a ‘year young’ in the 13-14 age group which is a great success in itself, in the first heat of the event.
Sam got off the blocks well and hit the finish 1/10th of a second inside his old PB with 28.59 and finished 13th overall.
The 15-year-old Ish Rahim was yet another first-timer and anxious to do well following the Regional Champs where he felt he did not do himself justice.
A good underwater phase off the block saw him in about fifth place at half way.
Once into his full stride, however, he ploughed through the field and touched home in 27.05, chopping just over 0.3 seconds from his best and placed second, with a wait to see if he had made the final.
Zac Patel was in his second year at Nationals and waited confidently for his own race three heats later.
His weakness has been his starts and finishes and he felt his start here left room for improvement but, like Rahim, he showed strength of character to move through the field in the second half of the race to hit his own PB of 26.56 with a well-spotted finish and another anxious wait.
When the results went up both Rahim and Patel had made their respective finals as fifth and seventh fastest and went away to prepare for their finals.
Chennells gives his all in training and deserves everything he achieves at the longer distances.
In his 400m freestyle he had a slightly slower reaction to the starting signal that is usual for him, but he then paced his race exceptionally well.
He was in fifth at the 50m stage in 28.45, maintained that to the end of the first 100m in 1:00.61 as the leaders created a gap to him and the others.
As he gradually built the middle part of his race, Chennells was in third with 50m to go where, with a storming last length, he hit the front in the last five metres to take his heat in a three-second PB and new club record of 4:14.15, which is also quicker than his short course best as well as an Open club record, his second of the week.
Unfortunately for him he placed 11th again, missing yet another final by just 2/10ths of a second but he, again, should be delighted with his level of performances in his GCSE year.
In the 50m fly finals, Rahim went first and, although recording 27.10, which would still have been a PB if not for his morning swim, placed ninth and he felt a slightly deep and too long underwater phase at the start had cost him breakout speed which is crucial in such a short distance event.
He was nevertheless delighted to have made a final in his debut at Nationals and is determined to improve on this in 2019.
Patel, by contrast, shortened his own underwater at the start and used the increased speed at the surface to swiftly move down the pool.
He spotted his finish perfectly and moved up a place to sixth in yet another PB of 26.34 – also an Open club record.
The club’s swimmers achieved a total of seven races – including the two finals – three club records and five PB swims, a sixth place finish, a ninth, two 11ths and a 12th place at the English Nationals.
The club’s head coach Geoff Wood said: “In total, it was the best ever consolidated set of results in the club’s five-year existence with promise of more to come next year.”