Post by Charles Wahab
Swansea – the ultimate goal of every masters swimmer in Britain. The stuff of which dreams are made of. The ultimate silverware.
For someone who never competed before his hair started thinning, going to the ASA National Swimming Championships was a milestone. Trying to see past the fact that the annual event was in Swansea, a town renowned for its colorful atmosphere on weekends (sic), I was excited to participate.
This is it. The main event of the year.
The Penguins had been to the Wales National Pool for a previous meet this year and knew what to expect at the 50 meter pool. Little did we know that this weekend would be full of surprises. When the online registration system fell to its knees in the face of my geek powers, attempting to register for both my individual events and the Penguin relays it hit me with a £112 fee, for six entries. One can do much in the modern office environment: armed with a headset, screenshots from multiple screens, three browsers and Whatsapp I was promptly on the phone to the ASA complaining and trying to register the relays before the deadline at midday. I lost that battle and the Penguins were not going to be participating in any relays. (Could be a good thing, keep reading).
Camille Vrain, Richard Royal, Montse Verdugo, Olatz Beitia and Dylan Tanner had also registered and we were set with three events each. However our troubles continued after the ASA published the race schedule: our preferred events were far between, with some of them on the Friday morning to add insult to injury. French people don’t like to be messed around (Camille), neither do the Mexicans (Montse). Hence, it was determined that our transport, the Royal bus, would not be leaving Londontown till Saturday morning and everyone would have to skip the 100m freestyle event on Friday. This decision was made partly in protest, but mostly because it required taking a day off work and the Rylston pub seemed like a better option for Friday night. We had already lost before we even got there!
My 400m freestyle event was timetabled for Saturday morning so, had I joined the Royal bus, not only would I have had to sit on someone’s lap, but I would have missed yet another of the events I’d registered for. Swansea cuisine isn’t exactly a sufficient reason to travel there and not swim (I do like those Welsh cakes though) so alternative measures had to be taken…
I decided to head down to Swansea on the Friday, and managed to convince Olatz to join me, so we could both make our early morning events on Saturday. The rest of the team in the Royal bus would arrive later.
Apparently Swansea is THE place to be in June – when it comes to hotels that is. All hotels in Swansea were fully booked, and the closest we could find was a Best Western in Port Talbot, the nearest pseudo-town.
My train arrived in Port Talbot around 4pm, and I decided to walk to the hotel to check out the town, planning ahead for the next evening in case it offered a viable alternative to Swansea’s infamous Wine Street (suitably named) to watch the England game in the World Cup. I quickly disregarded the idea since Port Talbot city centre looked more like Dresden in February 1945. Nevertheless, as soon as I turned the corner on to the promenade leading to the hotel, I forgot about the measly 100 meters event that evening, and the decision was made to go for an ocean swim as soon as I got to the hotel. It was a sign: there were three penguin statues along the pier!
|Penguin statue on the pier.||The beach at Port Talbot.|
With a five minute walk to the beach, an indoor pool (open till 9pm), a jacuzzi and a sauna, the £55-a-night hotel quickly ridded me of the trauma of walking through Port Talbot.
I went for fantastic 1-mile swim across the beach, in about 15 degrees water, without a wetsuit. By the time I got back, the tide had risen so far inland that my towel which I left on the breakwater had been swept away by the waves.
Still not had enough swimming. I decided to chill out in the hotel pool until Olatz got there. Once she arrived we decided to chillout even longer in the pool (with a beer) before heading out into Port Talbot for dinner (the hotel restaurant had a funeral function).
After trying almost every pub (all three of them) that no longer served (or never had) food, we settled for a pizza before taking a taxi back to the hotel for an early night so we make our races in the morning.
We got to the Wales National Pool at about 9:30am in time for the warm up. The place was already busy: the 50m pool and the warm up 25m pool were packed with swimmers. We had enough time to park our bags at the far end corner of the stands (our basecamp when we were last here) and go for our warm up. I felt a bit out of my depth, as everyone looked like they could be in a Diet Coke advert.
| The 400m freestyle beckons. HAPL is our ASA club code|
derived from our previous club name HAmmersmith Penguin,
with the suffix London.
Heading for my first race.
I was up first in the 400m free. I finished second in my heat, but at 6:41 I was strongly disappointed. 50m pool or not, this was not a great performance. I was lapping at about 50 seconds per 50m which is 5 seconds off my personal best for this distance.
Olatz was up next, and seemed to be in better spirits than I was, as is clear in the picture below. She came 8th in her category with 54.32 in the 50m breaststroke.
|Olatz waits for her race.|
The Royal bus had arrived by then. Mexico had won its football match the night before, and one could spell “Rylston” in the eyes of our fellow Penguins.
The cavalry did little to stop the carnage, as Camille and Richard lapped at 32.81 and 29.37 respectively in their 50m freestyle event, off their personal bests and nowhere near the leading times with one swimmer coming in at 24.30 (a world record back in the 70s).
Long-faced and feeling defeated, The Penguins headed back to the Port Talbot hotel, only to find that they had misplaced our booking! Luckily they offered free drinks at the hotel bar until they sorted us out, and we would have slept in the reception had they let us drink for free perpetually. Myself and Dylan went for a dip in the ocean, leaving the rest of the troops to drink and paint each others’ nails while the hotel found us a room. They finally dispatched us to the Holiday Inn Express where we were received by an extremely bubbly hotel manager who seemed more excited about us getting free breakfast than we were.
England was playing Italy at the World Cup, and we were keen to get into Swansea to watch the game. Avoiding previous mistakes of cold steaks and half cooked meals, we booked a table at one of the chain restaurants to guarantee ourselves a hot meal before we hit Wine Street. Stuffed and ready to drink, we walked through the myriad of Swansean party-goers, many of which revealed (sic) shocking discoveries for Olatz and Dylan, while Richard handled the sarcasm-laden commentary.
Finding a nice couch at the “nameless” wine bar right in front of the big screen (and the way to the toilets), England sadly did not do any better than we did at the pool, succumbing 2-1 against the Italians. Gary Lineker’s bland commentary caused the female Penguins to fall asleep on the couch. Even more long-faced we made our way through the revelers and to the taxi rank for a ride back to the hotel.
We did not fare any better in the pool the next day. Dylan, also known as Batman, took his place on the starting blocks to defend Penguin honour. He made a respectable showing in the 200m freestyle with 2:35.58.
By that point, I had resorted to sarcasm (as usual) with our Penguin cluster in the stands splitting into the “friendly side” of myself, Olatz and Camille (who by now had resorted to performance enhancing drugs ) messing about trying to grab the attention of Richard who was busy googling Yorkshire puddings.
|Selfie with Olatz, Cap’n Flint and Camille.|
Camille resorts to performance-enhancing drugs.
Finishing last in all our events we were heading for a clean sweep of the “ass whooping” category until Montse provided a shining light by winning silver in the 100m fly. Our pub discussion about her fitness were now laid to rest.
Stu, our inflatable mascot, was very happy not to be deflated without donning at least one medal before the event was over. Cap’n Flint, our fluffy mascot, was happy to make a new friend with Trunx, the British Swimming mascot won by Montse, as he joining the Penguin’s legion of stuffed animals.
|Trunxs meets Cap’n Flint.|
Stu shows off Montse’s medal, with Cap’n Flint.
The trip ended with the customary ride back to London, struggling to stay awake by singing 1990s songs, while probing ideas on how to achieve better results next time.