In 2019 Otter wanted to celebrate its 150th anniversary in style and so joined together with Swim England, which was also celebrating 150 years of the swimming governing body, and planned a unique swimming and water polo festival. We wanted to put on an event which was a bit different to the normal open meets. Something that brought together masters swimmers from across the country to celebrate all the best bits of masters swimming: the camaraderie, friendship, occasional athleticism, and perhaps a little competition. The programme paid homage to Otter and swimming’s history, resurrecting the plunge and some old English backstroke for the day, alongside more recognisable events.
And so, after months of preparation, Sunday 14th July arrived and around 300 masters swimmers and water polo players from all parts of the UK made their way to the fantastic London Aquatics Centre (LAC), home of the London 2012 Olympic swimming action.
The swimmers (and the team managers) were poised for an ‘interesting’ time in the pool, and seemed happy to put themselves at the mercy of an enthusiastic team of amateurs and volunteers who had overseen the plans and programme. While Otter organised some of the first Masters competitions in the UK, it hadn’t run a gala in decades, and we hadn’t perhaps fully thought through all the implications of running unusual events where the rules can be less than clear!
Masters swim teams from Barnet Copthall, GB Police, Guildford, Mid Sussex Marlins, Spencer and Teddington, plus All Star teams from the North (‘Rotters take on the Otters’) and the South, took on around 80 Otters in the Otter All Stars and the Otter Big Guns teams. With so many Otters keen to take part, it was great that we were able to share some of our swimmers with the smaller visiting teams.
The programme was made up of 28 events, including 50m sprints across all four strokes, mystery medleys, old English backstroke, polo ball relays and handicap races. A crowd favourite was definitely the plunge, with swimmers diving and gliding as far as possible with no momentum allowed beyond the initial dive - perhaps it should be reintroduced at Nationals! Teddington and Team South took top honours in the women’s and men’s events, respectively. Swimmers enjoyed the opportunity to resurrect their old English backstroke skills, with Team South and Mid Sussex Marlins triumphing in the younger and older mixed relays, respectively. And the ‘over arm’ breaststroke relay (fly arms and breaststroke legs) proved an unusual coordination challenge in which Team South, again, were most adept! The referee’s (Barnet’s Ian Wollard), favourite race probably wasn’t the 150m handicap race, where swimmers were set off in a staggered start with the aim of swimming as close to their handicap time as possible, but Teddington clearly relished the opportunity, coming in first.
Having totted up the points, it was clear that Team South (517 points) were the worthy winners of the anniversary team trophy, with Teddington second (386pts) and Spencer third (344pts). Congratulations to all the Team South swimmers, and the Veale family who gathered a top notch team.
Alongside the racing, Swimmers did Bake Off, with impressive creations being submitted by the visiting teams. An added bonus for the officials, volunteers and swimmers, who fueled themselves through the afternoon: congratulations to Teddington, Mid Sussex Marlins and GB Police who were considered by Head Judges, Alice Moffatt and Joe Staines, to have triumphed.
Following the swimming, we retired firstly to the pop up bar overlooking the LAC diving pit to enjoy some competitive water polo matches while we congratulated ourselves on swimming well done with a glass of something chilled. And then, it was on to the pub, where the afternoon of sport continued: the dramatic men’s Wimbledon final, along with the cricket world cup final. What a fantastic day of sport!
If you’d like to take a look at some more photos that were taken over the course of the day, they can be found here. Our thanks to all the swimmers, volunteers and officials which made this such a special day.
Water polo followed immediately after the swimming gala, and took place in the Olympic Diving pool with the moveable floor raised to the ideal depth of 2m all over. Four games were played involving all parts of the Otter water polo family.
Game 1: Otter Men’s 1st Team v Beckenham Men’s 1st Team (a London League Water Polo League Premier Division game)
Although Otter scored first, it was Beckenham that set the early pace. At half time the score was 4 goals to Otter and 7 goals to Beckenham. In the third quarter Otter steadily pulled the deficit back to just 1 goal. An exciting last quarter saw many scoring chances for both sides, each having the opportunity to win the game. The final score was 12-13 to Beckenham. The top scorers for Otter were Nick Corjon, Orion Ganase and Omi Pantazis, with 3 goals each. The top scorers for Beckenham were Pat Baker, Ben Tinkler-Davies and James Spencer-Boyce, also with 3 goals apiece. The referees were Paul Metcalfe and Nando Sorbelo.
Game 2: Otter Ladies White Hats v Otter Ladies Black Hats
This Ladies game was an entirely internal affair involving mix of players from across the Otter Ladies 1st Team, the Otter Ladies 2nd Team (aka Otter Lutra) and the Otter National Age Group teams. The final score was 10 goals to the white hats and 7 goals to the black hats. The top scorers with 4 goals apiece were Brooke Tafazoli and Rebecca Mulcahy for white and black, respectively.
Game 3: Otter Juniors under 16 v Penguin Hillingdon Juniors under 16.
This was a fantastic opportunity for the Otter Juniors to play on the same stage as the Otter senior sides. It was a hard fought game between two quickly developing teams. The final score was 8 goals to the Otter Juniors v 4 goals to the Penguin Hillingdon Juniors. The referees were Leon Estrella and Grant Monk.
Game 4: Otter Men’s 2nd Team v Polytechnic Men’s 2nd Team
Polytechnic, founded in 1874, is one of the oldest, possibly the oldest, of Otter’s water polo rivals, and therefore appropriate for them to be invited along to our 150th Anniversary Festival. Both sides consisted of current players with a dash of experience from years gone by. The game was a robust but friendly and evenly matched affair. The final score was an honourable draw with 9 goals each. The game was refereed by Leon Estrella.
Over 80 water polo players took part, almost 50 of whom were Otters. It was a fantastic event thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. A big ‘thank you’ goes out to everyone who helped make it happen.
Swimming Organising Committee: Gina Hobson, Jane McMenemy, Ben Thomas, Ollie Caldwell
Water Polo: Paul Hindle