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4th March 2016

BUCS Swimming Championships: The University of Manchester Swimming Club

We explore The University of Manchester Swimming Club and its commitment to character.

Half naked, soaking and delirious after three hours sleep with a hangover that just asks: ‘why.’ Sound familiar? Think again. This was Saturday morning at BUCS Long Course Swimming Championships; one of the most important competitive swimming competitions of the year.

Over the weekend of the 19th-21st February, around 3500 swimmers were among the six thousand athletes to descend onto Sheffield’s sporting venues for three days of competition. For the University of Manchester Swimming Club, BUCS is a measure of talent, endurance and determination in the pool, on the poolside and around the dance floor. Captains expect teammates to replicate and uphold the city’s energy and success through race results, vociferous support and vibrant fancy dress. BUCS exposes the character of university teams; their strengths, weaknesses and self -identification. Whilst once again top sporting uni’s such as Loughborough, Bath and Edinburgh comprised the highest points scorers this year, Manchester should be proud – swimmers proved themselves just as committed to principled fun and tenacious enthusiasm as previous, more successful years.

Compared to recent years BUCS results in both November and February have fallen short. From placing in the top ten between 2011-2014, winning AU club of the year twice, AU official of the year and AU sportswoman of the year, 2015-2016 has not managed to yield any BUCS points either in November’s competition or during this weekend. Swimming is one of the most participated sports in the country and one of the biggest individual sports within BUCS; being a BUCS points scorer is incredibly difficult. Success comes from talent and an unwavering commitment to hard work, with top swimmers training over ten times a week for 2 hours at a time. Manchester was lucky enough to attract a number of these top swimmers between 2011 and 2014, but as time moves on so do university students.

With their departure went the ‘top ten’ place on the BUCS scoreboard along with all funding from Sport Manchester. Pool hire is costly and a swimming club is highly expensive to run. Recently, funding has become a major problem. President of the club Justin Craig has had to donate £1000 of his own money to cover competition expenses and the once complementary circuits session on a Saturday will now have to be paid for by swimmers. Withdrawal of funds endangers not only racing success but threatens to distort the teams character. Committee members fear that if swimmers have to pay for Saturday circuit sessions the recreational members, who contribute a vital part of the teams spirit, will be less willing to participate given the relatively small amount of competition time they get.

The Sport Manchester homepage boasts of the Manchester Aquatics centre as ‘one of the biggest and best swimming facilities in the country’, and uses the University swimming team as part of their campaign to ‘make sport part of your Manchester.’ Whilst public promotion is sustained, the swimming club might hope to carry on attracting dedicated swimmers. However, there is a negative cycle for both Sport Manchester and the club; less funding leads to fewer swimmers and less success in the pool. Coverage of this year’s BUCS aims to demonstrate a team and its ethos; still willing and committed despite the recent difficulties.

On Friday evening Manchester’s first swimmer was Alberto Albona who endured the gruelling 1500m freestyle despite a lack of distance training. Following on was an exciting performance in the 4x100m freestyle relays. Fifty university teams competed in each race and, roared on by poolside support, the Manchester boys secured a place in the B team final to be held the following day. With the swimming over the team headed off to re-energise at one of Sheffield’s finest eateries; the local Weatherpoons. Dinner and drinks lead on to a successful night out at Leadmill club, then bed for a couple of hours sleep before warm up the next day.

Session two began at 8am Saturday morning with all swimmers keen to get stuck in. Despite Manchester’s high spirited antics lasting into the early hours of the morning the captains upheld the team’s traditional ‘no lie ins’ policy, ensuring all team mates were on poolside as supporters, whether racing that morning or not. Manchester’s swimmers showed grit and determination when racing and cheering on their teammates. Special mention to top forty finishers Carita Hui for her 50m backstroke and Sultan Alotaibi for his 50m breaststroke, along with Danial Zakaria for his 100m butterfly and Justin Craig for a speedy 50m freestyle (a recently healed broken arm withstanding).

The mens and women’s 4x100m individual medley relay once again proved productive, with the girls team finishing 26th and the boys team making yet another B final. The last event of the day was the mens freestyle relay final; Justin Craig, Max Granger, Laurence Gummerson and Matthew Rudolph swam a neck and neck race, with Surrey and Exeter with Rudolph finishing in an impressive 55.18 seconds.

Although pipped to the post for 8th by just 0.04 seconds the Manchester boys managed to steal 9th from Leeds Becket by over two seconds and provided the audience with a heated and exciting finale to the days events. Worn out and in need of some immediate calories the team decided to forgo the usual Dominos for something a little more nutritious; Wetherspoons once more welcomed the athletes with open doors. With another day of exhausting racing ahead the team decided to don fancy dress and head out to Sheffield Hallam’s ‘Get Dunked’ night for some well deserved raucousness along with the rest of the competition’s fun-loving swimming teams.

Another 7am wake up call followed by an enormous breakfast and dash to the pool began the last day of competing. With poolside smelling a little more like alcohol than chlorine and swimmers from all teams decidedly zig-zagging across the lanes in warm up the atmosphere was one of nervous resilience. Once again Manchester gave everything into the last few nauseous hours of racing to produce some incredible swims and clamorous cheering. Both Laurence Gummerson and Faris Alhassan performed commendably for their 50m butterfly and Matthew Rudolph came within two seconds of his club record in the 100m backstroke despite yet another recently healed broken arm. Other mentions go to the teams para-swimmer Rosie Bancroft who placed 18th in the open 400m freestyle and Aimee Harvey for her stoicism and determination during her many races. The final event was the Mens 4x100m individual medley final which proved a gripping end to the competition. The race was close with York, Nottingham, Manchester and Exeter side by side throughout. Manchester squared themselves with Exeter’s previous victory by beating them to 5th place and ending the weekend on a high.

Captains Connie Prowse and Laurence Gummerson have praised the team for their efforts this weekend, stressing the centrality of enthusiasm and solidarity to the club’s ethos. ‘BUCS top girl’ has been been awarded to Carita Hui for her 50m backstroke and Aimee Harvey for her upbeat attitude when asked to swim more events than any one else on the team. ‘Bucs top boy’ has been awarded to Matthew Rudolph for his 100m backstroke performance and James Hulbert for reflecting Manchester’s vigorous fun seeking and dedication to enjoyment. Finally, swimming hats off to both boys relay teams for placing 5th and 8th in the B finals.

What is clear from this weekend at BUCS is that the dip in Manchester’s swimming race performance is not down to nonchalance or lacklustre spirit in training or competition but perhaps instead highlights a weakness in the way Manchester is advertising itself for potential swimmers. Manchester Swimming Club does not pose as anything but what is is; a lively, hard working, inclusive and dynamic team, proud to be committed to enjoyment and enthusiasm as well as competitive results. Like many university teams Manchester depends on the quality of recruits and the lottery of university applications. With or without these luxury recruits the club continues to strive for impressive results with gusto.

This weekend Manchester will be holding the annual Quest for the Crest competition at Manchester Aquatics centre on Oxford road. Over thirty teams from all over the country will be competing to raise money for Diabetes UK. Come along to see what the swimming club does and donate to a great cause.


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