By Glen Byrom
MASHONALAND, Zimbabwe, December 13. THE Lawson brothers, Matthew (14) and James (12) from Pirates Club, were again in storming form as they each cracked a Zimbabwe record on the final weekend of the Mashonaland swimming championships at the Les Brown Pool. A third national mark also fell to 12-year-old Samantha Welch, who has an ever-growing list of national records to her credit.
The burly and barnstorming Matthew Lawson, from St George's College, became the first 14-year-old in the country to go under 4:30 for the 400 meters freestyle, crashing through that barrier to record a national record of 4:23.26, almost nine seconds inside F. Pellegatta's 1992 record of 4:32.21. It will be interesting to compare him in international terms at this young age as his nearest Zimbabwe challenger was more than a minute off the pace. His slim brother James, from St John's Preparatory School, also triumphed in the 11-12 age group 50 meters breaststroke, touching in 36.86 to clip the record of 37.29 set by Z. Ejaz in 1998.
"Super Sam" Welch, of Spartans Club, was also on fire in the girls 12-and-under 100 meters breaststroke, winning the heats in 1:24.16 and then the final in 1:23.64 to lift Nikki Bradshaw's 1998 record of 1:24.65. Although almost seven seconds behind, Jessica Harris continued to improve and impress. Welch, who has just turned 12, recorded eight personal bests in this gala and won seven golds, seven silvers and a bronze, including Prestige times in the 50 meters butterfly (33.52; she is current record holder at 33.01) and 200 meters individual medley in 2:47. The 50m butterfly was a showpiece of the championships, just pipping Tarryn Rennie in a thrilling, finger-nail finish (33.52 to 33.67) as they chased Kirsty Coventry's record of 33.18. Welch also won the aggregate trophy for this age group.
The tall, strong Rennie was also extraordinary in winning seven individual golds and is a fast-improving sprint star in the making as one of Zimbabwe's finest. Her 12-and-under time of 1:04.92 in the 100 meters freestyle was just splits outside the legendary Kirsty Coventry's national record of 1:04.34 set in 1995, while her 50m freestyle broke the Coventry mark with 28.77. She also took the 200 freestyle in 2:24.39; the 50 meters backstroke (35.64) and 100 backstroke (1:25.61).
Among the major stars of these championships, and brightest prospects for the future, was 13-year-old Tara Wallace of Spartans in the 13-14 age group. She claimed gold in nine of her 10 individual races and a silver in the 200 meters individual medley. In three events, she breached the arduous qualifying times for "Prestige", South Africa's premier age group gala in March next year – 50m freestyle (29.26); 100m freestyle (1:03.09) and 50m butterfly (32.86). She was also agonizingly close to Prestige marks in the 200 meters freestyle and 100 meters backstroke to underline her all-round prowess – only breaststroke is her Achilles heel.
Another to shine in this 13-14 group was Jessie Byrom of Spartans who cracked three Prestige times and won four gold medals, including setting a Zimbabwe record in the 200 meters breaststroke of 2:57.01 (2:57.87 had been held by Sam Welch). Other victories came in the 100m breaststroke (1:24.20), 200m individual medley (2:40.73) and 400m individual medley (6:02.07). A silver and three bronzes completed her individual tally.
Syanne Graham (24, Spartans), in her farewell gala before the family leaves for South Africa, showed her all-round prowess by winning the 13-14 group aggregate trophy in events ranging from 50m – 800m featuring all five disciplines. Her 50m breaststroke was a Zimbabwe record and her second gold came in the 800 meters freestyle . In all, she garnered 13 individual medals – 2 gold, 6 silver and 5 bronze – including eight personal bests and two Prestige times.
Frank Parrington's Spartans won the club aggregate trophy: Spartans 2467.5; Pirates 1489.5; Sharks 1014; Otters 905; Dorados 195; Highlands 144; Marlins 100.