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The American pair of David Heron and Taylor Abbott dominated the Men’s 1.5K and 5K swims while American Pan Am Medalist Chelsea Colwill was in a league of her own in the 1.5K and 10K races and US Olympic medallist Ashley Whitney won the 5K at the 6th Barbados Open Water Festival last weekend. Trinidadians Nikoli Blackman and Savannah Chee-Wah represented their country well with winning swims in the 3.3K and Canadian Taylor Parker, repeated his win in the Men’s 10K.
The weather was picture perfect with bright sunshine, little wind and excellent sea conditions. Swimmer Eney Jones described “The water is prettier than many pools I have been in.” As an added attraction a few curious sea turtles joined in and the star fish were glorious, easily visible, basking on the bottom.
As expected the two visiting elite American swimmers – David Heron and Taylor Abbott – set the pace in both the men’s 1.5K and 5K races with US 5K champ Heron edging out Junior World Champion (2014), Abbott, for the wins in both events. Twenty-four year old Heron set a new course record for the 1.5K with a 17:14 minute swim and the pair provided a highly exciting finish in the 5K where they led the race from the start and were neck and neck at the final buoy. Heron managed to pull slightly ahead of the younger Abbott as he emerged from the water and they then raced up the beach to the finish line, much to the delight of the waiting crowd of spectators.
The pair, who are both studying and training at the University of Tennessee, said the finish on the beach “was fun” as they are accustomed to water finishes in their competitive races. Barbados’ Olympic Triathlete Jason Wilson made a valiant effort to stay with the two in the lead pack but was unable to keep up as they moved into the third lap and settled for third place. Junior competitive Barbadian swimmer, Nkosi Dunwoody, was fourth.
Twenty-nine year old Chelsea Nauta Colwill of the US set new course records in both the 1.5K and 10K races (18:17 and 2:14:28). The accomplished swimmer, a product of Tampa Bay Aquatics and University of Georgia, is a double Pan Am medalist from the 2011 Games in Mexico (Gold and Silver) and has big wins under her belt in marathon swims. In 2013 Colwill won the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon swim in 10 hours 7 minutes, in difficult conditions, defeating three time Olympic gold Medalist Brooke Bennett and the male swimmers in the challenging race. In April 2017 the seasoned distance and open water swimmer won the US Masters Swimming Marathon Open Water National Championships “Swim around Lido Key” 7 mile race and set a new course record.
Twelve-year old Nikoli Blackman of Trinidad stole some of the limelight from elites and Olympians on the weekend with a stellar effort that rewarded him with third place in the Men’s 1.5K behind the US elite swimmers and a commanding victory in the 3.3K.
The Barbados Open Water Festival was celebrating its sixth event this past weekend with a record number of entries: 597 to be exact, from seventeen countries, for four distance races in Carlisle Bay. Swimmers arrived from England, Canada, Wales, Poland, Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Brazil, Australia, United States, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Netherlands, USVI, Trinidad, Antigua and Barbados.
The competitive races segment of the five-day event opened Saturday morning with 336 swimmers completing the 1.5K swim in the Bay. Sixty of those swimmers opted for a “Fun Swim” supporting the Children’s Charity: The Variety Club of Barbados. Those swimmers were not timed. On the second day of racing, 246 swimmers finished three races: 3.3K (84), 5K (119) and the 10K Marathon Swim (43).
The swimmers ranged in age from six years old to 75+ years. As is the case most years it was a wonderful mix of ages, abilities and nationalities. We had Olympians, a Junior World Champion, Masters Champions, competitive junior swimmers, elite swimmers, club champions, triathletes, water polo players, recreational swimmers, novice swimmers, pool swimmers, lake swimmers and sea swimmers. Many of the swimmers take part in the practice swims and casual dinners in the days ahead of event and this adds a wonderful social element with many new friendships being made at the Festival every year.
There are many regulars at the Barbados Open Water Festival, several swimmers have been visiting for the past five years including the popular “Jersey Girls”. This informal group of energetic ladies is led by Susan Kirk and Sarah Clark, passionate open water swimmers, who first visited years back and now bring up to 25 swimmers with their group. John Corcoran of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is another fan of the event and swam his first 10K here on his fifth visit.
In addition to winners named, Dominika Jamnicky, Canadian pro-triathlete, who recently had two solid results in Intl Triathon Union racing in Mexico (4th) and Ecuador (5th) was in fine form and took second in the Ladies 1.5K and 5K races. Canadian Olympians Katie Brambley and Tera Van Beilen(4th in 10K) as well as retired pro-triathletes Eney Jones and Alison Hayden (2nd in 10K) were in attendance.
Masters Open Water Swimmer Bill Ireland of the USA also made his first appearance in Barbados and was sixth in the 3.3K. The fifty-eight year old was part of a relay team that completed a 15 hour 41 minute crossing of the Catalina Channel on September 29th, 2017. According to the Daily News of Open Water Swimming: “The crossing was Ireland’s third relay crossing of an Oceans Seven channel. The Californian is one of the most prolific open water swimmers in the world.”
Two special awards were handed out to Barbadian swimmers over the weekend. The Jonathan Morgan Memorial Trophy for the first Barbadian Masters swimmer to complete the 5K was won for the third time by Rick Peters. Peters resides in Toronto but has attended all six of the festivals. A strong swim by Barbadian Simon Wilkie earned him third place in the Men’s 10K Marathon Swim and the coveted Chris & Peter Gibbs Trophy for the first Barbadian in that race.
Organizers of the BOWF were highly flattered when they learned recently that the Festival has been nominated for a 2017 WOWSA Award for the “Performance of the Year”. They acknowledged that Barbados was very fortunate in 2017 to have been spared by two Category 5 Hurricanes that caused total devastation in many other islands. During the Festival a collection of money, non-perishable foods, medical supplies and toiletries was made and donated towards a group helping with the relief effort in nearby Dominica.
The next Festival is scheduled for November 7-11, 2018.