Thursday, August 06, 2015

Day four was the busiest day in the pool so far for the Oceania Swimmers at these championships with seventeen swimmers competing from nine nations. No fewer than 10 personal bests and national records fell, including a historic moment for Papua New Guinea in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay.

Ryan Pini, Tegan McCarthy, Sam Seghers and Barabra Vali-Skelton lined up in the Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay along with host nation Russia.

Ryan Pini got the team off to a great start and put the island team in the lead at 100m securing 56.38 as the atmosphere began to build in the Kazan Arena.

“ With a home crowd and a loud noise, there’s always a little bit of nervousness and excitement. In terms of my time I was a little bit better than my time in the individual event which I aimed for.” Ryan remarked.

Tegan followed up with a Breaststroke leg in 1 minute 17.87 seconds. Seghers had an impressive third leg of Butterfly setting the team up for a strong finish. His time of 56.07 seconds for his 100m was the fourth fastest for the third 100m out of the entire 26 team event.

“ It felt pretty good after backing up so soon after the Pacific Games. It was a little bit slower than I’ve been before, but I’m happy.”

Barbara bought the team home in a new national record of 4 minutes 13.90 seconds and was equally pleased with her performance and that of the team who finished behind winners Russia, who broke the World Record.

It was left to Ryan to sum up their pleasure,

“We smashed our record from the Oceania Championships last year with the same team, which was pleasing.”

Sam Seghers of Papua New Guinea was then again in action in the 100m Freestyle, his biggest competition to date, Seghers adapted seamlessly to the big occasion.

“It’s pretty surreal. I’ve never done a comp this big in my life. It’s intimidating at times but it’s a great experience”, he claimed afterwards. The atmosphere is amazing, especially with a Russian in your heat!” he stated with a smile.

His first 50m saw a time of 24.93 registered before a quick second 50m of 26.42. The result was a new personal best of 51.35.

The future is certainly bright, for the young swimmer, and his aim is high;

“It’s one step closer to an Olympic Qualifying time and I’m pretty happy with that”.

Day four brought joy for the Marshall Island’s Colleen Furgeson. Furgeson took to the pool in the Women’s 50m Backstroke. Her strong start stood her in good stead for the rest of the race, which ended with a new personal best and national record time of 33.04 seconds, beating the previous one by 0.15 seconds.

When asked about how the race went, she replied;

“It was a good race. I think I did pretty well...I PB’d but I’m trying to still beat 33 (seconds) but I’ll get there one day”.

The World Championships have been a humbling experience for Furgeson. A big part of this event has been national pride.

Coming into Kazan, her aims were to; “ get personal bests and to represent my country awesomely. It’s an honour, honestly, to represent my country at such a huge swim meet”, she said beaming.

If you can be described as a stalwart at just 22 years of age, then Giordan Harris of the Marshall Islands is just that. He’s been attending major swimming championships since 2007. With his first World Championships being in Melbourne.

Giordan lined up in the biggest field of the day of 115 swimmers in the 100m Freestyle. He was joined by eight other swimmers from the Pacific islands. 

Starting in Heat 2, he finished in second place in 57.75 seconds, lowering his previous best in the process. The experienced swimmer who grew up in Ebeye reflected calmly on his performance,

“ A drop in time that’s always good. The Pacific Games were just a couple of weeks ago and it’s kind of hard to bounce back but it’s worked out. The experience in Papua New Guinea set me up for a better execution and the steps to coming here and how I’m training for this race. So it gave me a good insight on how to swim here. “

He also gave us an insight on how these championships compare to the others he has attended over the years,

“ Every games they just seem to step it up in some way. It just keeps getting better and better. I love the Athletes’ Village, I love the environment, it’s great to be with all the athletes in the same place. I’m riding the bus and eating with the world’s top swimmers when normally I’d just see them on YouTube.”

“ Absolutely happy, that’s all I could ask for out here halfway across the world,” he said laughing.

The swimmer holding court was Jagger Stephens , 17 from Guam who had just completed his 100m Freestyle Preliminary along with eight other Pacific island entries. There was just time to place on record his completion of the race in a new personal best and national record of 51.50 seconds before Jagger talked us through his delight at being the second fastest Pacific islander in the Heats,

“ The plan was to pretty much go out hard for the first 50m and coming back use whatever else I had. It’s an incredible atmosphere and the swimmers here are crazily fast. I was nerve wracked before I went out onto the pool deck. I just had to calm down and swim my own race."

Day 4 brought about the second race for Ben Schulte, of Guam. His race today (5th August) was the 200m Individual Medley (IM). His previous best came a few weeks earlier in the Pacific Games, in Papua New Guinea. The lack of time between the two competitions was not the best, he admitted.

“I’ve had two weeks where I didn’t really know how to train. Two weeks is really awkward timing”.

When the race started, Schulte’s reaction time was 0.67 seconds and second best in the heat. By the first 50m he was second and going strong. Unfortunately, it could not be sustained and he finished 6th in the heat but still set a strong time of 2 minutes 09.50 seconds, just 0.28 seconds short of his personal best.

“I felt really quick, good and strong. The time was alright still around my PB so I can’t complain... My aims were PB.I had the Pacific Games two weeks ago and I did pretty well. I’m actually satisfied. I think I took the butterfly pretty well ... it felt pretty comfortable and smooth and I think that was the best part of my race”.

At a mere 21 years of age, Shawn Dingilius Wallace is Palau’s oldest competitor at the World Championships and a veteran of two long course world championships. He took to the pool in the Men’s 100m Freestyle. The same event played host to eight other athletes from Oceania.

His start was impressive ranking joint 4th with Giordan Harris of the Marshall Islands, with a time of 27.91 seconds after the first 50m. The Palauan recognised this, agreeing that; “I had a good start.” However, the second half of the race was marginally slower,

“Then after the last 50m I was trying to bring it home but I started dying off towards the 100m but I had a good swim and got a PB today”. He put this down to the fact that his “stroke was a lot smoother”.

Ifa Paea was the third Tongan to compete following on from Charissa Panuve and Amini Fonua, Paea competed in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, in Kazan.

Aged just 25, he went in search of a new personal best, having set a new record in the Commonwealth Games, finishing the race in 52.76 seconds.

His race today was another step-up for the determined swimmer. He hit a time of 25.51seconds at the halfway stage before completing it in 52.21 seconds.

When asked about his performance, he replied;  “Yes it was pretty good. It was a PB. Under 52 seconds would’ve been better but it definitely sets me up for the 100m ‘fly. A PB’s a PB”.

The exhaustion etched on his face was fitting of someone that has spent years practising for these moments. It had all been worth it to compete at this level.

“Oh man, it’s the fastest meet in the world with the fastest swimmers... (The atmosphere) is pretty electric going out with the lights and cameras”.

His ambitions for the Championships were clear. “My aim was a PB in Freestyle and Butterfly which would put me in good stead for Rio 2016”. With one completed, up next is the 100m Butterfly, on Friday.

Then Fiji’s Meli Malani  lined up in Lane 4 in Heat 3 at the start of the Men’s 100m Freestyle, in the magnificent Kazan Arena. His race was consistent throughout, and he narrowly missed out on second in his heat.

Clocking a time of 53.68, 0.37 seconds, Malani seemed relaxed about the race.

“I found it alright, went out too slow in the first 50m and had to play catch-up. I came 3rd in my heat and did a personal best”.

However, this wasn’t good enough for him. “I am happy but not satisfied” he said thoughtfully. But is the young Fijian confident of an improvement? “Yes, definitely”.

It’s typical of the unique spirit that exists amongst the Pacific island nations who are competing at these World Swimming Championships that two of their swimmers came through the Mixed Zone afterwards to meet the press whilst chatting and smiling together. They even waited for each other after their interviews. Competitive in the pool but collaborative out of the pool, has been a notable feature of the island swimmers from the ten countries out of Oceania.

One of those swimmers was Debra Daniel of the Federated States of Micronesia in her first race of the week the 50m Backstroke,

“It felt really good for my first race at these championships, everything I did was ok. The start and finish were really good”

Her initial assessment was accurate as her efforts were more than ok, they were really good. Enough to claim a personal best of 33.75 seconds for the 24 year old. And a significant 1.10 seconds quicker than her recent time at the Pacific Games.

Debra is back in action on Saturday in the 50m Freestyle which she is looking forward to and you wouldn’t bet against her lowering her mark in that event as well. After all, it was in Kazan two years ago that she broke her previous 50m Backstroke record (33.99 seconds.) Kazan is clearly a place where she enjoys racing.

Samoa’s Winter Heaven is keen to lead by example at these championships for the young team around him.

The 21 year old posted his personal best and national record in the 100m Freestyle at the Oceania Championships of 2014 in New Zealand. A time of 53.01 seconds. That had disappeared by 10am on day four in Kazan, with Winter racing home in 52.77 seconds. He was tired but clear in his reflections straight after the race,

“ I’m pretty happy with it. It’s my best since I came back to the sport. It was a fun one, it’s always fun racing in the next lane to Ifa (Ifa Paea from Tonga) but it hurt, it hurt a lot."

His drive was evident as he began to outline the next steps to success,

“There’s still some small conditioning issues I need to work on but that’s just going to come with time and as part of training. I’m pretty happy with my technique, I’m feeling good in the water. So now it’s just the little things, like hitting the wall a little better, bringing it home in the last 15m and being a bit stronger.”

It was the second event of this year’s FINA World Championships for The Federated States of Micronesia’s youngest competitor, Kaleo Kihleng. The fifteen-year-old started impressively with a reaction time of 0.65 seconds, entering the water first in his Heat. Starting in the Lane 6, Kihleng finished the first heat with a time of 1:01.71.

Relfecting on the race, he stated; “I felt I could’ve done a lot better”. I don’t think I was ready for it”. An understandable reaction having competed in only his first ever World Championships.

The 50m Backstroke was the first event and Evelina Afoa of Samoa lined up alongside two other Oceania swimmers from the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia.

Evelina was seeking her second personal best and national record in just three days having set a new mark in the 100m Backstroke. In the end, she was just 0.07 seconds outside the record finishing in 31.74 seconds.

For someone who holds multiple national records and sets her standards admirably high she was a little frustrated afterwards at narrowly missing out,

 “It was alright, my start was pretty good but I could feel myself slowing down. I can’t be too disappointed, I’m pretty happy overall with my performance this week.”

She has now finished competing at these championships and although the disappointment of the 50m was understandably uppermost in her mind, she remained positive,

“This week has been quite good, I would have liked to have PB’d in the 50m but I went close to my time, so I’m not too disappointed. I’m happy with my 100m so I’ve just got some things I can take away and look to improve which is good. It’s been so much fun and such a great experience, I’ve really, really enjoyed it.”

Takumi Sugie of the Northern Marianas came into these championships in fine form having picked up three national records at the recent Pacific Games in Port Moresby.

One of those personal bests included the 100m Freestyle in which he recorded 59.95 seconds. Here, at the Kazan Arena, on day 4, he was aiming to reduce that time. Unfortunately, it was not to be for the 17 year old as he completed the two – length event in 1 minute 00.23 seconds.

 “ I didn’t really get a good start and first 50m, but I had a good finish though,” remarked the 17 year old from the Northern Marianas.