Grenada jumped out to the early lead, closely followed by the home team, Saint Lucia, as the 24th Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Swimming Championships got underway Friday at the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre.
With defending champions Grenada on 210 points, 12-time champions Saint Lucia just three points behind, and hard-charging Antigua-Barbuda a mere 16 back of Saint Lucia, and with two full days of swimming to come, the title is still very much up for grabs. At the closing ceremony Sunday, will the defending champs draw level with the home team in terms of number of titles won? Will the trophy stay in Saint Lucia? Or will it have a new destination for the first time in years?
If the early salvos are anything to go by, this will be the most exciting and hotly contested OECS meet ever. It is certainly the biggest meet ever at this level, with 143 participants, including full teams from the three aforementioned nations and St Vincent & the Grenadines, plus a team from the British Virgin Islands. Sadly, the meet missed out on what would have been a welcome innovation, as – due to several factors – organisers were ultimately unable to accommodate the open-water swim that had been planned.
But the action in the pool on Friday evening was intense, kicking off with the distance races and 200m medley relays. Two records were broken, both falling to swimmers from Antigua-Barbuda. in 2013, Noah Mascoll-Gomes set a meet record of 4:20.26 in the boys 13-14 400m Freestyle. On Friday, he smashed that record by over 15 seconds, touching the wall in 4:05.23, more than 30 metres ahead of his nearest rival, countryman Stefano Mitchell (4:31.89). The Antiguan quartet of Maddison Coleman, Gabriella John, Samantha Roberts and Makaela Holowchak stopped the clock in 2:09.89 for the girls 11-14 200m Medley Relay, besting Saint Lucia by over four seconds and beating the mark of 2:13.79 set last year by a team that also included John and Roberts.
Earlier, Antigua-Barbuda had started the meet by winning the opening event, the girls 8 & Under 100m Freestyle. That title went to Hailey Derrick in 1:20.50, over Saint Lucia’s Naima Hazell (1:21.59). In the boys’ category, Saint Lucia’s D’Andre Blanchard evened things up by conquering Antigua’s Luke Pollen-Brooks, 1:18.09 to 1:21.27. Olivia Fuller (5:30.56) won the girls 9-10 400 Free, whilst Alex Joachim of St Vincent & the Grenadines (5:27.03) won the boys crown. In the 11-12 400 Free, Saint Lucia’s Eden Crick (5:07.13) was victorious, and Antigua’s Lleyton Martin (4:51.13) was the boys’ champion. Holowchak of Antigua-Barbuda (4:45.04) took the 13-14 400 Free honours over compatriot Roberts (4:54.32).
Grenada got into the mix with the 15-17 girls, as Oreoluwa Cherebin (4:45.42) copped the 400 Free title in that division; the boys gong went to Antigua’s J’Air Smith (4:35.21). For the 18 & Over 400 Free, it was Kevlian Andrews (5:57.27) winning it for the Spice Isle of Grenada, just as her male counterpart Chris Regis (4:37.04) would do. Regis beat Saint Lucia’s Jordan Augier (4:38.90) by just under two seconds, so whatever else happens this meet, the hometown favourite won’t be repeating his unbeaten run from last year’s competition.
The six relay wins were evenly split between the top three teams, though Saint Lucia did finish second in each of the four they did not win. Aside from Antigua-Barbuda’s record win in 11-14 girls, their 11-14 boys, led by Mascoll-Gomes, just managed to hold the home team off. Saint Lucia’s wins came in the 10 & Under girls, with Shalini Joseph, Naima Hazell, Maya Hilaire and Mikaili Charlemagne, and the 18 & Over boys, a team comprising Michael Louis Fernand, Stefon Emmanuel, Jordan Augier and Jonathan Calderon. In both cases, Grenada was second. But Grenada topped the medal rostrum in the 10 & Under (Jenebi Benoit, Zackary Greshem, Jaydon Hyson and Iyanu Antoine) and 115 & Over (Kevlian Andrews, Oreoluwa Cherebin, Valorie Andrews, Ashleigh McLeish).
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Minister of Youth Development & Sports, Honourable Shawn Edward commended the Saint Lucia Amateur Swimming Association for taking the sport forward and developing a fine cadre of athletes and young citizens. “The sport of swimming had made great strides in Saint Lucia,” he said. “It is not by accident that it has been included in the programme of sports for the Commonwealth Youth Games Saint Lucia 2017.”
The minister pointed out that many of the athletes participating in this meet would be eligible to return to Saint Lucia in three years for the Commonwealth Youth Games, though he did not take the opportunity to reiterate the present administration’s intention to build a 50-metre facility. He also spoke highly of the dozens of parents who were on show for the opening session. “It has always been said that the children of the Caribbean have a lot of things competing for their attention,” he said. “But if we have parents and families that provide guidance and direction we will certainly have more productive citizens than we do now.”
Speaking on behalf of the host Association, SLASA president Lancelot Arnold took time out to thank the administrators, volunteers, supporters and family members who make the meet happen, but he also noted that many of these individuals are themselves former swimmers. “It is heartening to see that those who once competed in these meets are today coaches, officials and supporters,” opined Arnold. “This is truly a family of swimming.”
Also speaking at Friday’s ceremony were Rae Atkinson from main sponsors Sagicor and Ricardo Bowe, second vice president of the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee. Action in the pool resumes on Saturday from 10am and continues from the same time on Sunday.