By Glen Byrom
MASHONALAND, Zimbabwe, December 5. FOUR Zimbabwe swimming records tumbled on the first three days of the provincial Mashonaland swimming championships at Harare's Les Brown Pool, the new national champions being Matthew Lawson (14, Pirates), Syanne Graham (14, Spartans), Jessica Byrom (13, Spartans) and Tarryn Rennie (12, Spartans).
The first three mentioned should have been swimming for Zimbabwe at the All Africa Junior Championships in Cairo, but for the shattering blow of the event being canceled by the Egyptians just a week before. They showed immense spirit by emerging from their despondency and proving that they were finely tuned by achieving golden results in the provincial championships.
Hellenic schoolgirl Tarryn Rennie once again underlined her rich potential as a future champion when she cracked Kirsty Coventry's 29.60 50 meters 11-12 year olds freestyle record in the preliminaries (29.36) and again in the final (28.77). She flew off to a superb start and powered to her stated ambition for the season. As always, Rennie featured in a series of thrilling tussles with Sam Welch – Rennie won the 400m freestyle, and the 100m butterfly (closing in on Coventry's record), while Sam triumphed in the 200m backstroke (going under the 3min barrier for the first time), 50m breaststroke, 200m individual medley and 200m breaststroke.
The slightly built Jessie Byrom, of Chisipite High School, showed she is strong of mind and of body by reclaiming the 200 meters breaststroke record. This Coventry mark in the 13-14 age group had stood for more than 10 years at 2:59.50 until Byrom clipped it at the March 2007 South African Prestige gala in East London. Her glory was short-lived as tearaway Samantha Welch, at just 11 years old, clocked 2:57.87 a few hours later. But this last weekend, Byrom zeroed in on the record again with fierce tenacity to set the new time at 2:57.01, thanks to her highly respected coach Frank Parrington (who now has 75 years service to swimming) and the pre-race motivation by Sam Welch's father, Ash.
"I had a plan to swim this race and it all went perfectly," said Byrom. "Ash had told me that the last length would be tough but it would be whether or not I wanted to go to Prestige. That determination was up to me. As I turned for the last length, I glanced at Ash and he gave me the thumbs up, so I knew my timings were spot on. Then I just heard him yelling ‘go, go, go'. It's great to have people like [Frank Parrington] and Ash behind me."
It also showed the genuine and generous spirit of Ash Welch because it was his daughter's record on the line. This swim gave Byrom her second Prestige qualifying time required to be part of the elite Zimbabwe team to go to South Africa's premier age group gala. Byrom also won the Mashonaland 200 meters individual medley in a third Prestige qualifying time of 2:40.73 and she still has another year in this 13-14 age group. She achieved the 100 meters breaststroke barrier earlier in the season.
Syanne Graham, making her farewell appearance in Zimbabwe before the family move to East London in South Africa, set a cracking tempo for the 50 meters breaststroke to clock 37.30 – not only a 13-14 age national record but also the fastest in the open section.
In the 14 and under 400 meters individual medley, it was the irrepressible Matthew Lawson who stormed to another Zimbabwe record of 5:08.61, almost a full minute ahead of the pack. This also placed this 14-year-old St George's schoolboy first in the open section ranging from 2-4 years older than him. He also cruised to victory in the 200 meters freestyle in 2:06.64, to finish 11 seconds ahead of the field. The "baby" Lawson, 12-year-old James, was also in compelling form, winning the 12-and-under 100 meters breaststroke in the fine time of 1:21.67.
Just when retirement seemed near for veteran Dion Kruger, the 25-year-old Sharks swimmer burst back by winning the open 50 meters butterfly in 27.98. The strong Bree Catterall (10) closed in on Coventry's 1993 record of 32.98 in the 10-and-under 50 meters freestyle, clocking 34.01 and again proving that she is a real talent for stardom in the future.
Tara Wallace (13, Chisipite School) clinched her second Prestige qualifying time and her place in the elite Zimbabwe team by winning the 50 meters freestyle for 13-14 in 29.26. She also won gold in the 100 meters butterfly to again prove she is one of the country's finest young swimmers.
The Mashonaland championships conclude this weekend, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday (Dec 7) and then all day Saturday and Sunday at the Les Brown Pool.
Meanwhile in other action at the Matabeleland championships in Bulawayo last weekend, four provincial records were broken, all by 10-year-old Levi Fargnoli, who is surging towards a very bright future and who next competes for Zimbabwe at the Sub Saharan championships in Malawi from January 3-5. This adds to a series of other records that Levi has cracked this season.
Swimming official Lorna Riley is enthusiastic: "Not since Paulette Sullivan was swimming against Kirsty Coventry have Matland records been broken like this.
Levi's four golden records came in the 10-and-under group (old records in brackets): 200m freestyle – 2:44.00 (2:50.19); 400m freestyle 5:59.19 (6:10.36); 50m butterfly – 38,58 (39.61); 200m individual medley – 3:10.90 (3:14.94).