North Ayrshire’s Rory Dickson rounded off a magnificent 2018 by claiming two Junior titles at the Scottish National Short Course Championships.
The 16-year-old was the fastest under-17 swimmer in the 100m and 200m Individual Medley races at the Royal Commonwealth Pool at the weekend, sharing the top step of the podium with British Swimmer of the Year, Duncan Scott.
He qualified for two B finals in his IM events, which was a terrific achievement at an open meet featuring some of the biggest names in UK swimming. What makes it even more impressive is that the pool in Edinburgh has 8 lanes (compared to 10 at Tollcross), so only the fastest 16 got through to swim again in the evening sessions.
“I managed to put down some big markers for the rest of the season,” says Rory, who set new PBs in 5 events, including his 400m IM.
“Doing well in the IM and Freestyle is a good thing because I've been putting a lot of work in on them. The breaststroke was a bit of a disappointment, but I feel the results will come if I keep working.
A twist of fate prevented Rory going for the hat-trick of IM titles on Sunday night.
He’d qualified for the B final, alongside rival, Angus Allison from Warrender, but a couple of withdrawals saw Angus promoted to a start in the A final – meaning he would be crowned Junior champion regardless of the time he set in the race.
The rule cheated the crowd at the pool, and those watching the live stream on the web, to what surely would have been an epic head-to-head battle.
Angus and Rory were separated by 7 seconds coming into the meet, but by the end of the finals Rory had got that gap down to 1 tenth!
“It was disappointing that I couldn't do the treble,” he admits, “but hats off to Angus. He had a good swim in the heat and it's a shame we didn't get to go head to head in the final, but I'm sure the time will come.
“Being on the podium with Duncan Scott for the 100m IM was surreal. He's a west district boy like myself, and we've probably grown up doing the same competitions, and now he's a multiple Commonwealth and European champion.”
Rory’s swims delighted Head Coach, Jess Wilkie, at her first national meet since she joined North Ayrshire.
“I didn’t really go in with any expectations,” she says. “The plan was just to hit PBs - medals were a shot in the sky.
“It was great to see Rory get two Junior titles in the medleys. It was just unfortunate with the way it panned out with the 400m IM because I reckon that would have been a good race.
“It was a best time in the heat, and we knew that we were stepping it up in the final and we were trying to prove a point that we deserved to be in among the other guys in the A final.
“He did just that, beating some of those in the second race [going 5 seconds faster again] which just goes to show that we’ve got a pretty good standard of swimmers, and it being in a medley shows that we’re strong across all four strokes.”
Jess was delighted by the strong performances put in by the whole team in Edinburgh, with everyone setting PBs in many of their individual races.
“It’s normally impossible to get every swimmer PB’ing at the same time and it’s nice to be able to set some pretty tough benchmarks for the rest of the season.
“It got better and better as the days went on, which just shows that we’re doing the right training. It was good to see the guys can convert from heat to final which is something that we’re always going to look for.
“I think probably the highlight of the weekend was Jen Murray in the 200m Freestyle. We discussed how we were going to swim it beforehand and went for the ‘let’s just go for it’ attitude, and she did just that and managed to hold 32’s for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th 50m, which was one of the best things we saw over the weekend.”
Jen had a remarkable three days of swimming, setting PBs in each of her 6 events culminating in a place in the B final of the 400m IM on Sunday evening after being first reserve for the 400m freestyle on Saturday.
Her 800m (2.8 sec PB) caught the eye of Junior Coach, Alan Dickson, who was taking charge of the team on Friday: "Jen's a great worker and always gives 110% and loves that aerobic style of swimming. We've been working on some stuff around her head position on the breakout and she's been taking that on board and is starting to reap the benefits”
She rounded off the meet playing a key role in the girls 4x100m relay team who put in a fighting display to beat their entry time by 2.36 seconds, coming 16th from a seeding of 20th.
“It was a great way to finish the meet,” says Jess. “It was lovely to have Leah come down and join us. She swam a 2nd best time in the opening leg which was a great start and got the girls fired up.
“We swam it a little differently to the way most teams would, putting our fastest swimmer third, and Jen managed to pull out a 58 which was around a second and a half faster than any of us would have expected.
“Rachael held her own and Eve kept the momentum going on the anchor leg. She knew there was a little bit of pressure on her from behind so that always helps a little bit.”
Eve Mair had already made her mark with a stunning 6 second PB in her 200m fly on Friday afternoon. She was delighted to collect one of the goodie bags handed out by meet sponsors TYR to the winners of ‘hot heats’ across the weekend.
"Eve's 200m fly was a fantastic swim,” says Alan, “and I have to say I didn't see that one coming.
“Eve's been training really well. She used her underwater skills to great effect and swam it very efficiently.”
Alans comments are echoed by Jess: “Eve’s really shown in the last couple of weeks that she’s pushing it on, and she’s wanting to learn, and that helps us to train smarter rather than just ploughing up and down.”
Evan Clark was another ‘hot heat’ winner, claiming his prize in a dead heat in the 50m backstroke, one of three PBs at the meet.
Rachael Grant’s backstroke was on form, lowering her times in both the 50m and 200m events, while Fraser Kelly showed that Rory isn't the only talented IM swimmer among the boys, setting PBs in both the 100m and 200m events, as well as taking nearly a second off his 400m freestyle.
With this meet out of the way the focus switches to the start of the long course season, and Jess knows that expectations will be high.
“We didn’t really back off for this meet so to get PBs out of them means we’re probably in a very good place going into the West Districts and SNAGS. We'll be hoping to hit some qualifying time for that and hopefully get some more kids on the team.”
There’s one last meet before training eases off a little over Christmas, with swimmers from both the junior and senior squads competing at the Warrender Baths meet in Glenrothes and the Cumbernauld Christmas Sprints this weekend.