By Glen Byrom
LILONGWE, Malawi, January 7. ZIMBABWE's team of 39 swimmers eclipsed nine other countries to retain the African Swimming Confederation (CANA) Zone 4 sun-Saharan championship in Malawi capital Lilongwe on Saturday. Second was Zambia and third was Malawi, while other competing nations were South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana.
In 130 events during three days, including relays, Zimbabwe's domination was underlined by its impressive haul of 128 medals – 47 Gold, 40 Silver and 41 Bronze. South Africa's promising development team of 21 swimmers came second with 77 medals – 35 Gold, 26 Silver and 16 Bronze, followed by Zambia. Hosts Malawi, with the largest team, showed great promise in winning 37 medals, including three Golds.
Of the 122 individual events, at the 25-meter short-course African Bible College pool, 14 Zimbabweans won 45 gold medals between them – an astonishing 33 of them new meeting records in this fifth annual gala. The list was headed by the pencil-slim 12-year-old James Lawson of Pirates Club, Harare, with a personal gold-haul of six in his 12 races. The other gold achievers were Nick James (5), Samantha Welch (5), Tarryn Rennie (5), Bree Catterall (4), Bronwyn Palmer (4), Maxine Heard (4), Drew Rosser (3), Sloane Marshall (2), Charlotte Wetzlar (2), Andrew Chance (2), Jason Dickinson, Levi Fargnoli and Shannon Taute.
Four of the 10 age-group individual aggregate trophies were also claimed by the super-charged Zimbabweans – James Lawson (boys 12-and-under), Samantha Welch (girls 12-and-under), Maxine Heard (girls 15 & 16) and Bronwyn Palmer (17 & over).
The third and final day on Saturday started in persistent rain, often heavy, and ended with a dramatic storm that sent the swimmers scurrying before the end of the final presentations. But this did not dampen the spirit and achievements of the swimmers, led throughout the gala by the exuberant Zambians who far outshone every other team with their feisty support for their swimmers.
On a sad day when her grandmother died, Maxine Heard (16), of Spartans Club, notched the first record of the third and final day for Zimbabwe by winning the 15 & 16 girls' 200 meters freestyle in 2:17.07. With superb style and a strong kick she edged ahead in the opening 50 meters and held off the challenge of South Africa's Lee Anne Kock.
Zimbabwe's Nick James contested several fierce challenges with the brilliant all-round Swazi, Luke Hall, and the 200 meters freestyle typified this rivalry. They powered through the water neck-and-neck and turned together for the final 25 meters, the well-built James taking the verdict in a new meet record of 2:02 to eclipse Grant Behan's 2006 mark of 2:04.65. James then added the 200 meters backstroke crown in a record 2:15
Diminutive Samantha Welch outclassed the field in the 200 meters freestyle for girls 12-and-under to clock 2:26.46, but still outside fellow Zimbabwean Lulu Ward's 2004 record of 2:23. Later the blonde Welch added the 100 meters breaststroke gold medal in 1:21.75 to break this meet record by almost three seconds.
James Lawson (Pirates Club and St John's School) clinched his sixth and final gold in his specialist 100 meters breaststroke, winning in 1:17.34 to slice four seconds off the old mark. Zimbabwe's Dylan Rosser was second in 1:25.
Tall, tousle-haired Drew Rosser looked particularly classy and went out blazing in the 13 & 14 boys 100 meters breaststroke and stretched his lead from the start to win in a meet record 1:13.41.
Zimbabweans proved their prowess in the showpiece 50-meter sprints, winning five of the 10 races, four of them meet records. It was the tall 17-year-old Michaelhouse student, Andrew Chance, who proved the supreme sprinter of the gala, powering to decisive victory and a record 23.65 over Luke Hall (Swaziland) and Nick James, who also both broke the old record.
Tarryn Rennie again served notice of possible stardom ahead by winning five gold medals – all in meet records – for Zimbabwe, powering away from the pack in the 50 meters freestyle to take a full second off the record, clocking 29.17, with Samantha Welch third on 31.01. Rennie also won two silver medals in the 200 individual medley and the 50m backstroke, both behind her greatest rival, Welch.
Tall Bree Catterall was another Zimbabwean to shine, winning all four of her events (three of them records) in the 10-and-under girls group. Her 50 meters freestyle Gold was a thriller against a talented Botswana swimmer, their times being 32.56 v 32.77.
Zimbabwe's girls captain, long-legged Bronwyn Palmer, led by example; her smooth, impressive style winning her four gold medals in the 17-and-over group – 50m freestyle (28.45), 200m freestyle (2:15.88), 50m breaststroke (35.95) and 100m freestyle (1:01.00).