From Neil Riddell in Åland
It has been a patchy week in terms of medal successes for Shetland’s youthful team of 94 athletes and competitors at the 13th NatWest Island Games in Åland, with the good form of the archers the undoubted high point as they collected the fourth and final of their medals yesterday.
A bronze in the team compound head-to-head knockout for Billy Finnie, Martin Krusche, Ryan Leith and Sara Leith was secured with a victory over the Isle of Man in a play-off after they were knocked out 203-199 at the semi-final stage by neighbouring Orkney, who went on to win gold. It added to a gold from Finnie in the men’s compound, a bronze from Sara Leith in the women’s equivalent event and another team bronze for the same quartet in the team compound on Tuesday.
When The Shetland Times went to press yesterday afternoon, the overall medal tally stood at six, one gold and five bronzes, with the only other successes coming from swimmer Andrea Strachan in the pool and shooting duo John Magnus Laurenson and Bryan Sutherland, who got Team Shetland off the mark in the team skeet event on Monday.
Competitors have had to cope with a much hotter climate than had been anticipated. The temperatures have been even warmer than those experienced back home over the past week, with the thermometer in the shade regularly tipping over the 30C mark and scorching hot conditions even in the morning and evening.
As had generally been expected given how young many team members are, the tally indicates that Shetland will be returning home on Sunday with a substantially lower tally than they have become accustomed to in recent years. Unless there is a remarkable upsurge in fortunes over the last two days, you would have to go back to the 1995 games in Gibraltar, when Shetland finished bottom of the medal table, to find a more paltry tally.
The week’s biggest disappointment was the performance of the footballers, who won gold the last time they competed in the Island Games. They had started well enough with a 2-2 draw against an impressive Menorca side, but their fortunes declined as the week went on with a narrow defeat at the hands of the host island followed by a hugely disappointing outing as they lost 3-1 to minnows Greenland on Tuesday. That left them facing a 13th/14th place play-off match against Saaremaa at Hammarvallen last night.
There are still a few hopes of further medals, with young 800m runner Emma Leask recording the third fastest time in the heats yesterday to go into this morning’s final with a decent chance, while Sakchai Makao was last night in action in his favoured triple jump and Joshua Morrison qualified for this afternoon’s 1,500m final.
After an illness-afflicted Wednesday, the swimmers had a more fruitful morning yesterday with all of the team members well enough to compete. Amy Harper came fourth in the heats of both the 50m backstroke – where she was just 0.13 seconds behind the third fastest swimmer – and the 100m freestyle and was in with a chance of medals in both finals yesterday evening. Strachan also qualified for the individual medley with a time of 1:11.24 and the boys came fourth to reach the 100m freestyle relay final, their time of 3:43.31 only 0.40 seconds behind the third-placed Isle of Man.
The shooters are also in action on Friday and Saturday, while having recovered from the same bug which affected the swimmers, table tennis starlet Lynda Flaws will be hoping to reach tomorrow’s semi finals in the singles and mixed doubles competitions at the Ålands Idrottscenter. Flaws has started very impressively, cruising through group five and dropping only one set on the way to beating Lii Vahter of Saaremaa, Gotland’s Martina Eskedahl and Danielle Ives of Alderney in the singles event on Thursday morning.
Shetland team manager Bob Kerr said it had been “a week of mixed fortunes” so far: “We’ve been pleased with some reliable performances from the archers, the clay shooters and Andrea Strachan in the swimming pool.
It’s unfortunate that the swimming and table tennis teams have been affected by a nasty 24-hour bug which has obviously been critical to their performance this week.”
He agreed it was disappointing that Shetland’s medal performance appears to be on the wane and said that there could be things to learn from other similar-sized islands which are performing much better than the three Scottish island groups. Kerr said: “What is interesting is that other islands of a comparable size perform much better on the medal table than the Scottish islands generally. I would be really interested to find out more about their infrastructure for sport to help us improve our own standards in the future. Standards at the games are improving. Clearly other athletes and other islands are doing things differently, and that makes a big impression in the medal table.
“We said before we came out that we have a mixture of youth and experience in the team and what is important is not just the medal table itself and the final results for the team, but the fact that we have so many youngsters that have really excelled themselves with personal bests and personal achievements this week, and that helps us to plan for the future.”
Councillor Rick Nickerson, who travelled to Åland in his capacity as the SIC’s culture spokesman, said he had found the games very exciting and enjoyed the friendly spirit and camaraderie. But he feels more money is needed for coaching to help bolster the isles’ performance in terms of challenging at the top end of competition.
He said: “I’d like to see how we can enhance some of the support we have, in terms of supporting some of the teams. Between the games we could look at resources in terms of getting some more support in training and coaching. “If you look at the Faroe Islands at the swimming last night [Tuesday], almost every time they were going away with one or two medals and they’ve a full-time swimming coach. That’s no criticism of our own team, they’re doing extremely well within the resources that they have, but I can’t imagine our youngsters aren’t as talented as they are.”
SHETLAND’S MEDAL TALLY OVER THE YEARS
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