Saturday, August 08, 2015

Day 6 was the busiest day yet with no fewer than sixteen Pacific island swimmers hunting out personal bests and national records for their nine respective countries. Once again, a lot of the swimmers can point to successes gained on the world stage, including national records and personal bests, as their thoughts and training plans begin to turn toward qualification for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. It was also the fastest day as the Men’s 50 m freestyle got under way.


Sometimes the best is saved until last. Last in the pool on Day 6 for the Pacific islands of Oceania was Victoria Chentsova of the Northern Marianas. She was taking part in the longest distance of the week, the 800m Freestyle.


Victoria claimed her second personal best and national record of these championships when finishing in 9 minutes 48.87 seconds. Nearly 11 seconds inside the previous best.


A delighted Victoria said,

“ I’m so happy, I didn’t do as well as I hoped, I was aiming for 9 minutes 44 seconds but I beat my time so I’m so happy and relieved. I was just trying not to die. I’m always going out too slow and coming back way faster, so I’m always negative splitting. So this time I wanted to go out a little faster so that I wasn’t sprinting near the end. I just gave it my all.”


Born in Saipan, the sport loving 17 year old had extra reason to savour the moment as well as her two records,

“ It’s been a really special experience for me because I’m going to college next month and so I’ll be leaving the Northern Marianas but hopefully I’ll still be able to swim for them. So this is the last time for a while that I’ll be representing them as a swimmer who has been training there. Also, I’m in my home country as my parents are Russian, so for me there has been all kinds of emotion. It’s been super exciting and definitely an unforgettable experience.”


A mammoth field of 113 swimmers opened Day 6 in the Kazan Arena. Takumi Sugie of the Northern Marianas was one of seven Pacific islanders in the Heats of the 50m Freestyle, the fastest race in the pool.


A holder of three national records, the unassuming young swimmer was aiming to lower one of those records in this discipline after clocking 27.59 seconds at the recent Pacific Games in Port Moresby.


He was not be disappointed as he hit the wall at 27.26 seconds, clipping a third of a second off his own record whilst finishing second in the Heat.


A breathless Takumi explained how he had approached the race,

“ I gave it all I could today, so I’m really happy with that – a personal best. Just going forward was the only thing I thought of after I dived in.”


Day 6 eventually brought the first race, in the 50m Butterfly, for Angel De Jesus, of the Northern Mariana Islands. Her start was quick, with a reaction time of 0.64 seconds which was 8th quickest out of all 64 participants. Her strong swim continued and she finished a respectable third in her heat with a time of 33.86 seconds; better than her previous best of 34.99 seconds.


It was a very happy Dirngulbai Misech of Palau who entered the Mixed Zone after her 50m Butterfly Heat.

These World Championships have now borne two personal best times for the 17 year old. She finished the one length sprint in 31.70 seconds

“ I’m so happy I finally broke the 32 second mark. Right after my first swim (this week) we’ve been working more on my technique for my stroke and we did a stroke analysis and that really helped me with my overall stroke. I’ve been really focusing on this race as it’s one of my favourite races”


Among the first to hit the water was Palau’s Shawn Dingilius Wallace. Competing in the Men’s 50m Freestyle, with six other Pacific Islanders, he started in heat two with Northern Mariana’s Takumi Sugie.


After previously achieving a personal best, on Day 4, in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, Dingilius Wallace was intent on ending the week on a high.

With this in mind, the 21-year-old was focused on the task in-hand, and with a quicker reaction time than earlier in the week, he seemed determined to give his all from the start.


The finish saw him touch the wall first and set a time of 27.02 seconds.

“That was awesome. That was my new national record right there”, he beamed. The sense of pride and joy was evident.

“I had a great swim and I ended up seeing myself on the big screen so I had a good day today”, he laughed. “Today is my highlight”.

When asked how it all went to plan he replied: “I executed what I needed to do...I went out and brought it home...If I hadn’t taken a fourth breath I probably would’ve got a 26.90 (seconds) or something like that..but I’m still pretty happy with what I got”.


The Championships will be one to remember for Shawn, with an impressive two personal bests and a national record.


Day 6 brought high hopes for Papua New Guinea’s Sam Seghers. Having set a personal best only two days prior in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, the young athlete’s focus turned to the shorter, Men’s 50m Freestyle.


He clocked a time of 23.46 seconds, beating his Pacific Games time of 23.78 seconds and setting a new personal best at the same time. His time was 0.68 seconds off team-mate Ryan Pini’s National Record time, something he has the belief to beat; “It’s definitely the aim, I’ll get there eventually”.


On the swim itself, the PNG swimmer admitted he was happy but felt he could do better. “It’s a tiny PB I was hoping for faster”

“I took a breath at the wrong side...but that’s all part of racing. You learn something new every day”.


However, he did take positives from it. “I think my start and my finish went really well which is something I’ve been working on... especially my dive”.


Another PNG swimmer, Tegan McCarthy, was a picture of concentration as she waited for the start. In Heat Two, the Women’s 50 Butterfly.

Her start was good. A reaction time of 0.69 seconds was as fast as the quickest swimmer in the heats, Sarah Sjoestroem, the World Record Holder of Sweden.


“At the start I felt good but at the end I lost it a little bit”.

Her eventual time came in at 30.27 seconds, marginally off her personal best.

“It was just off my PB so it wasn’t as I hoped it would be, but it was alright”, she mused. In terms of improvement she identified; “holding my stroke for the 50 (m) and pushing harder”.


After previously competing in the Mixed Medley Relay and the 50m Butterfly, it was now time for Ryan Pini of Papua New Guinea to compete in its longer version, the 100m.


Catching up with him in the Mixed Zone he provided his thoughts on his swim,

“It was good, up there with what I’d done this year”, he said after receiving a time of 53.02. “I think I executed it pretty well”.

He highlighted his area of improvement as fitness.


“For me (an improvement) it’ll be fitness. The last two and a half months have been really challenging. I had my appendix removed and a fairly bad back injury and all considering I’ve done really well”. Having finished 30th out of 73, “very well” was a more than fair assessment from the inspirational swimmer.


It’s never easy to wait all week whilst your team compete, before you get the chance to test yourself in the pool. Annie Hepler, Marshall Island’s Olympian has had to remain focused until her appearance on Day 6 of these championships.


In Annie’s view the wait has been helped by FINA’s introduction of an Athletes’ Village in Kazan.


“ I came here thinking we were going to stay in a hotel like all the other World Championships. Then we’re in the Athletes’ Village which I think is pretty cool. As a result, I’ve met a lot of new people and Russia has done a good job with this, it’s pretty fun.”


Her preparation paid off with a pleasing swim, posting a time of 30.02 seconds in the Women’s 50m Butterfly, just 0.07 seconds outside the time she clocked at the recent Pacific Games. She finished third in her Heat and came out top in the competition between the five Pacific island women entered in this event. The 19 year old swims under the guidance of coach Amy LaCost and was pleased with her performance,


“ It was really good, my goal was to hit around 30 seconds, around my PB so I’m really happy with that swim. I’ve been waiting for a long time to swim this week. It was good, I kept training hard all week and was prepared. I’m pleased with the results.”


Following on from a personal best time in the 100m Freestyle earlier in this competition, Giordan Harris was hoping for another success story for the Marshall Islands on Day 6. It was the turn of the 50m discipline for him. The 22 year old, who took up swimming in the 3rd grade thanks to a friend encouraging him, was targeting a mark below 26 seconds to gain a personal best (PB).


It was agonizingly close, with Giordan touching in 26.18 seconds. However, he was reasonably happy in the Mixed Zone afterwards,

“ A little bit off my best I swam in Papua New Guinea (where he set his PB). I’m right there, so not too bad. Swimming wise, this week has been pretty good. I dropped my time in the 100m Freestyle which is always pretty good and there was only 0.1seconds between my best here and the Pacific Games in the 50m, which means I’m dead on.”


The Kazan Arena played host to a second performance from Meli Malani of Fiji, in the Men’s 50m Freestyle.

The race itself saw the Fijian compete with six other Pacific Island athletes, and post a time of 23.78 seconds. The time put him second amongst the athletes from the Pacific Islands, however he wasn’t satisfied with his performance.


“It was a bit disappointing. I didn’t manage to was slightly off...I left the block with a strong start but then towards the end ...I didn’t do as well”


Overall, “I enjoyed my 100m Freestyle...It’s tough, there are so many world class athletes. People like us struggle to make it to the semis but hopefully in the next World Championships as long as we keep working hard on our focus and our goals, we might just be there in the next one”.


Ever cheerful Jagger Stephens of Guam came into Day 6 of these championships on the back of a national record gained in the 100m Freestyle.


Jagger, like all the other swimmers, is aware of the endless hours, commitment and time required to compete at this level. Even then the difference in times can be minuscule after all the hard work. This was one such occasion.


“ It’s one of those things where it’s so quick and you push yourself so hard that it’s hard to tell what you may have done wrong with your technique. Although I definitely felt that I couldn’t push my body to the limit.”

This was his reaction immediately after his performance in the 50m Freestyle in posting a time of 23.84 which was only 0.09 seconds shy of a personal best.


“ Personally, I think my performances in the pool have been ok. It’s been an awesome experience, I love all the people here and the competition is insane and I was able to get my best time for my 100m Freestyle, so I can’t complain.”

Winter Heaven rounded up Samoa’s programme for the championships in Kazan.


Winter broke the national record in the 100m Freestyle earlier this week and mentioned at the time, that whilst he was looking forward to the 100m Butterfly he was working on a few things technically to produce his best performance possible.

In his Heat, Winter turned at 50m in 26.54 seconds and completed the 100m in 57.47 seconds. Just six hundredths of a second from breaking

his national record which he set at the 2014 Oceania Championships in New Zealand.


Being so close, but yet so far, was the initial frustrated reaction as he reflected on the last minute in the pool.

“ I’ll have to go back and have a look at the splits and the replay to see what I can work on. It was not what I was hoping for but I can’t complain. I went fairly close. It’s definitely a stepping stone. It’s good to have the performances under my belt and to move forward and to see how I handle such a big stage and gather experience.”


Ifa Paea’s second race for Tonga at these championships came in the Men’s 100m Butterfly. His Commonwealth Games performance earned him a time of 55.62 seconds setting a new Personal Best (P.B.) and National Record.

His finishing time on Day 6 was just outside that mark in a time of 55.80 seconds.

“ I really thought I could go under 55 seconds. I felt really, really comfortable but I thought I could go faster. I’m not too disappointed. It’s only the second time I’ve done a 55 (seconds).


His time ranked him in 52nd place in these World Championships and with the Olympics now in sight, he is aware of what he has to do; “Make the qualifying time for Rio which is 54.19 seconds.”


At just twenty-one years of age it is an incredible achievement to compete in one World Championship, but to compete in two is a sign of hard work and commitment. This is the case for Tonga’s Irene Prescott who competed two years ago in Barcelona and is now attending the Kazan version of the FINA swim meet.


She started swimming aged eleven and cites her first World Championships, in 2013, as her most memorable event. It was here she set the time of 30.97 seconds.


After achieving a time of 31.90 seconds in the 50m Butterfly, she commented that;

“It was alright I thought I could go a little bit faster but it’s my first race. I think my start was good but I lost the catch of the water at the end but it was alright”.


Dionisio Augustine of the Federated States of Micronesia was determined to overcome his 50m Breaststroke disappointment earlier this week, in his final race at these championships.


The 23 year old placed 15th at the Pacific Games in a time of 27.10 seconds and was hoping to get near that mark in Heat 3 of the 50m Freestyle. Dionisio, came home in 26.92 seconds, a little outside his personal best of 26.75 seconds.


“ That was ok, just outside my personal best. I’ve had a good week.”


Dionisio has now completed his racing for this week and having competed at a number of major championships in recent years including the World Short Course Championships at Doha, then this experience will stand him well, despite his initial disappointment of missing out on another personal best.


This article was produced by Mike Marron of The Reporters' Academy, a media production company run by young people, tasked with the mission of telling the stories of Oceania's swimmers at the World Championships in Kazan. The Reporters' Academy is integrated into the world of media, education and employment, dedicated to changing the lives of young people across Oceania and the UK.