From left to right: Stuart (coach), Anna Willetts, Chloe Bennett, Bethany Willetts and Neil Edwards (coach)
Oldbury's dynamic duo of Bethany Willetts and Chloe Bennett represented the club at the regional youth championships over the bank holiday weekend, swimming against the very best from across the East and West Midlands. With seriously strong individuals from major cities like Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Leicester, Loughborough and Derby the level of competition was unlike any that either of the girls had experienced this calendar year. The venue for this prestigious meet was Corby international pool, the first time the long course (50m) championships had been held away from Coventry.
The first Oldbury race of the weekend came from Chloe Bennett who was entered in the 100m Breaststroke and excelled in her performance, conquering nerves to beat two girls in her 15/16 age bracket and one in the 17/over age band. She finished as the 10th fastest 15 year old which is an excellent achievement when contrasting that result to all the 15 year old girls in the Midlands.
The following two races of the session came from Bethany Willetts. In the 50m Backstroke Beth did extremely well and qualified for her age group final in second place and in the 50m Freestyle heats Beth finished in 13th place overall. In both races Beth knocked 1 second off her long course personal best times which she set at last year's regional championships. To knock this amount of time off both 50m races was a great start to the weekend for Beth.
In the second session of the Saturday Beth competed in the 200m Backstroke, an entirely new event for her at the regional championships. However, this did not deter her as she scraped into the final, meaning she had qualified for two finals from her three heats of the day.
The 50m Backstroke final was a nerve-wracking time for Neil and Stuart as they waited whilst Bethany lined up for her splash-and-dash swim. Spear-headed and placed in the lane 5, Bethany got off to a great start and at 25m gone was in the mix with 5 other girls for the silver medal. Beth's strength is her back-end of the race and as she entered the final 20m she pulled away from the blanket to finish in second place. This was a truly staggering accomplishment both for Beth and for Oldbury. For Oldbury to have a regional silver medalist is just an outstanding achievement. Beth was clearly overjoyed by her result but couldn't celebrate until she had raced her second final. With a performance that saw Beth undercut her heat time, Beth finished in 5th place in the 200m Backstroke. Another amazing result from Oldbury's top girl.
After a long day on Saturday everyone was a little tired on the Sunday but Chloe Bennett once again kicked off the day, this time in the 50m Breaststroke. Chloe had never raced 50m Breaststroke long course before and so this was entirely new experience for her and she secured her first long course PB and finished in 14th place in the 15/16 age band as the 9th fastest 15 year old. Beth then swam soon after in her 100m Backstroke heat and qualified for another final, this time in 4th position. Beth's final heat of the weekend was the 100m Freestlye and there were no expectations for this race as Freestyle is not Beth's number one stroke. This event also has more entrants than any other, bar the 50m Freestyle. However, in a turn of events with a little bit of luck Beth one again nudged into the 17/over final as the 8th fastest finalist.
After a long afternoon break the evening final session got underway. Giving everything she had, Beth put in a performance that couldn't quite sneak into the medals but came 4th, once again using her back-end speed to leave 5th to 8th well in her wake. To put this performance into perspective, this was the East and West Midland regional 17/over final and our swimmer came 4th. Onto the 100m Freestyle final and with nothing to lose, in lane 8, Beth then stepped up for her last race of the championships. After a long, hot, draining weekend coach Stuart put no expectation upon Beth and told her to have some fun....and that is exactly what she did. In one of the best Oldbury performances that Stuart had ever seen, Beth took the first 50m of her 100m race in a 30.66, turning in 6th and managed to hold onto that position throughout the remainder of the race, battling exhaustion and two other swimmers to finish in 6th place. Although Beth had medalled on the Saturday, this was the highlight of the weekend, demonstrating how much emphasis Oldbury put on perfomance and not medals. Beth's time was over 2 seconds faster than her heat time that qualified her for the final. The sheer determination and guts that she showed when she was tired and aching to then attack the final race in that way showed a true competitors spirit.
Both girls swam exceptionally well over the weekend but extra praise to Beth who excelled herself and put Oldbury's name on the finals board four times. Four finals from five races at the regional championships is the sort of results that any top class swimmer would be proud of.
Well done to both girls. BAGCAT regional championships in June are now the next major competition for the Oldbury elite.
Congratulations to Molly Miley and Oliver Watson who have been chosen to represent Worcester County, competing at Stafford on Sunday 23rd June.
After a hugely successful county championships, with the most swimmers competing for Oldbury since before the year 2000, Oldbury are also having their most successful regional year in well over a decade. A total of five Oldbury swimmers have qualified for the regional championships meaning that they will soon be racing against the best swimmers in the East and West Midlands.
In the year 2011 no Oldbury swimmers qualified for the regional summer championships, in 2012 the club had three regional standard swimmers and this year we have a total of five. This shows the direction in which the club is moving and how hard training and dedication can pay-off.
Well done to Bethany Willetts, Chloe Bennett, Molly Miley, Oliver Watson and Maisie Miley.