Samantha Welch, 11, Takes Down Another Kirsty Coventry Age Group Record

By Glen Byrom

MUTARE, Zimbabwe, October 15. ZIMBABWE'S latest swimming sensation, 11-year-old Samantha Welch of Harare, was hoisted shoulder-high by her jubilant Spartans Club teammates after she cracked a second Kirsty Coventry national age group record in the space of three weeks.

The blonde, elfin-like Welch powered through the water to clock a 33.01 in the 50-meter butterfly at the Zimbabwe National Sprint Gala in the picturesque eastern border city of Mutare. The performance eclipsed the 33.18 Girls 12-and-under mark set in 1995 by Zimbabwe's greatest all-time swimmer – Olympic and world champion Kirsty Coventry.

Earlier, in what was a momentous day for Super Sam, she snatched a second Zimbabwe 12-and-under record in the 50 breaststroke by clocking a 38.11 to replace Maxine Heard's 2003 record of 38.70. These were the only two Zimbabwe records breached in Mutare, though several other swimmers performed well.

Seven swimmers notched Prestige Level 3 qualifying times – requirements to compete in South Africa's "Cream of the Crop" age group gala in East London in March. These notable achievements were (Prestige standards in brackets):

Boys 14: Matthew Lawson (Pirates), 50 butterfly: 30.73 (30.77).
Boys 15: Jamie Schultz (Bulawayo Crusaders), 50 butterfly: 29.32 (29.34).
Boys 12: James Lawson (Pirates), 50 breaststroke: 37.45 (39.20)
Girls 12: Samantha Welch (Spartans), 50 breaststroke: 38.11 (40.31); 50 butterfly: 33.01 (34.44).
Girls 13: Amy Bond (Spartans), 50 breaststroke: 38.30 (39.04)
Girls 14: Tara Wallace (Spartans), 50 butterfly: 32.80 (32.82).
Girls 16: Moira Fraser (Spartans), 50 butterfly: 31.20 (32.28); 50 freestyle: 28.45 (28.90).

Exceptional among these times was the 37.45 by the pencil-slim 12-year-old St John's Prep boy James Lawson – just missing the age group record of 37.29 set in Mutare nine years ago. It's still early in the new season and the talented Lawson is sure to hunt down the record in the coming months.

The Mutare National Sprint Championships saw the Spartans Club again dominate the aggregate trophy, especially in the girls section where it won every single event except the 50 butterfly (13-14) won by Amy Bond of Pirates.

Apart from her two records, Welch also won the 50 backstroke in 37.1, just half a second ahead of Tarryn Rennie, with a fast-improving Joey Beare third in 38.4 – her personal best. Rennie and Welch, both high-quality swimmers with steely determination and dedication, have become great competitors and their races are amongst the most exciting in swimming. Rennie again proved her prowess in beating Welch in the 50 freestyle (29.95 to 31.50), with Beare again in the frame at 32.0s.

Jamie Schultz of Bulawayo Crusaders, who swam at Prestige early this year, seems destined to return to this top-level gala after notching a 29.32 in the 50 butterfly, just a fingernail ahead of Stephen Palmer, whose 29.48 was just split seconds away from the Prestige goal. Adam Grey also shined with a 29.50 to head the preliminaries, but he was sadly disqualified in an exciting final.

Nick James, 17, whose mother was a national swimmer, dominated the Boys 17-and-over age group. Apart from his one Prestige qualifying time, he also won the 50 backstroke and 50 freestyle. Here is a swimmer of notable talent who could reach for the stars if he sets his mind to the task.

The powerfully smooth strokes of 13-year-old Tara Wallace took her to victory and her first Prestige qualifier in the 50 butterfly in 32.80. The surprise second place (33.89) here was 13-year-old Holly Brown of Otters, who is back after a shoulder injury last year and serving notice she will again be a force in the 13-14 group. Wallace also won the 50 backstroke in 34.92, just off another Prestige time.

Zimbabwe's top locally-based female, Moira Fraser, again excelled, cracking two Prestige marks and winning all four of her races in Mutare. In just a few weeks, Fraser will be following her friend Maxine Heard to TUCS High Performance Swimming Centre in Pretoria to complete her schooling and focus on swimming.

Others to catch the eye in Mutare:

Dylan Rosser (12) of Pirates clocked 40.06 in the 50 breaststroke behind James Lawson's blistering pace but less than a second from Prestige time.

Drew Rosser (14) of Pirates won the 13-14 50 breaststroke in 35.6, a split second ahead of Tatenda Zinyemba of Sharks – both a second off Prestige qualifying.

Jessica Harris (12) of Spartans won the bronze in the girls 11-12 50 butterfly in her first major competitive gala in the race Kirsty Coventry's record was breached.

Kerry Hutchings (15) of Pirates finished a strong second to Moira Fraser in the 15-16 butterfly, her time of 33.0– very close to Prestige qualifying.

Dylan Rosser (Pirates) and Sloane Marshall (Otters) fought a magnificent duel in the 11-12 freestyle with times of 30.42 and 30.80.

Matthew Lawson (14) of Pirates clocked 27.92 in winning the 50 freestyle, just half a second from Prestige entry.

Stephen Palmer (16) Spartans won the 15-16 freestyle in a storming 26.42, just outside Prestige qualifying and beating strong swimmers such as Jamie Schultz and Adam Grey.

Syanne Graham (14) of Spartans won the 13-14 freestyle in 29.86 , less than half a second off Prestige qualifying and just pipping Tara Wallace.

Savannah Stead of Crusaders, who is just 11 and yet finished an impressive second to Sam Welch in the 50 breaststroke in 42.20 and beat 21 others, mostly a year older, in this 11-12 event.