A young team of local swimmers will be looking to emulate the golden performances of Jersey 2015 when they take to the water in Sweden for this year’s island games.
Gold medal winner Felix Gifford will be competing again hoping for a repeat of his success in the 200 metres butterfly two years ago. Gifford, now studying in Stirling, was also a finalist in the 100 metres freestyle, where he was the only competitor without Olympic or Commonwealth Game experience.
A further five medals towards the team’s overall haul went to star competitor Andrea Strachan. But the golden girl, who racked up 17 medals in 10 years of competing for Shetland, will not be taking part this year having hung up her goggles after the 2015 games.
This year’s team is likely to be one of the most youthful in Gotland. 14 swimmers will represent Shetland at the games with the eldest aged 23 and the youngest just 14. Only five of those travelling to Gotland have competed for Shetland in previous island games.
Coach Lorraine Gifford said that Shetland had a well-earned reputation “for getting the development of swimmers right” and this was evident in the early age at which many competitors were ready to make the leap into senior competition.
She said that in some senses the pool in the Brae Leisure Centre, which is smaller in length than those which most other teams have trained in, contribute to this.
“When you work in a pool like this you do have to think outside of the box because of the size of it,” she said.
In recent years Gifford has seen three swimmers who have trained with her in the Delting Dolphins swimming club go on to compete at national level, including her son Felix. Commonwealth Games medalist Erriad Davies and Jake Swanson, niether of whom are in the team for Gotland, have also competed for their country.
And swimming team captain Megan Perry, from Nesting, is another of Gifford’s young trainees. The 19-year-old will be racing in the 400m individual medley, which is “one of the tougher races”, Gifford said.
But, despite the strength of the sport in the isles, coach Gifford said she felt it would be “difficult” for the local swimmers to make it into finals for this year’s games.
Last time around eight competitors in each discipline went through to the final based on their performances in the heats. But this time around Gotland will be using a small five-lane pool, which means smaller heats and smaller finals.
“It’s a little bit disappointing that there’s only five lanes,” Gifford said.
She added: “Sometimes you hold back in the heats a bit but they won’t be able to do that here. Everyone is going to have to work hard in the heats. Each one will be like a final.”
Because of this set-up only two people in each final will miss out on a podium spot, less than those who will finish with a medal.
Gifford spoke of the quality of the opposition in previous years and said that there were cases where a swimmer who had made the finals would miss out on this occasion.
She referred to her son’s 100 metres freestyle final in 2015, where the other seven competitors had top-level experience at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games.
“That final was a real eye-opener,” she said.
But she was confident that her swimmers would not let the prestigious accomplishments of their opponents get into their heads.
Any swimmer who can secure a spot in the final against these veteran stars can boast of “big achivement”, Gifford added.