I’m waiting outside Piscina Sant Jordi in Carrer Paris for the Out to Swim Team. My sightseeing efforts of the morning have exhausted me but I’m somewhat refreshed by a snooze on a shaded park bench just around the corner from the pool. It’s not quite the same team we had in Paris as Michael W is away sailing. David D P M and Martin S (here to support us) are first to arrive followed by a surprise in the form of Anthony Hill, an OTS member I’ve never seen before. He doesn’t swim very often but as he’s on holiday in Spain at the moment, has decided to enter some races with the aim of encouraging himself back into training. Jerome B and Philippe B arrive soon after and Jerome is very happy to only do the 4x50m Freestyle relay so Anthony can swim freestyle or fly in the Medley. I make contact with the organisers of the relays teams only to be told that we should have entered on-line. ‘?Didn’t we get an email?’
‘No, I didn’t get any email.’
The pressure is off and suddenly we only have to concentrate on the three events we’ve each entered. David is anxious to warm up as he’s starting off in event 1, the 200 Individual Medley. I’d very briefly considered this race, but giving it a trial at the London Fields Lido a couple of times convinced me that 50 M butterfly and 50 M breaststroke are just too gruelling for me. Just as I’m about to warm-up, the organiser comes to tell us that we can enter relay teams after all. Panic – as we have to get everyone’s names, entry numbers and year of birth onto a piece of paper. Philippe starts writing it all down and I call out the info from the start sheets. As David and Anthony are in the pool already I have to search for them and find out what stroke they prefer in the Medley relay. We get it all down on the paper and I get on with warming up. The water in this 50m pool is deliciously cool and refreshing compared with the sweaty ambient temperature. There is no electronic timing here and thus no soft plastic pads at each end of the pool but it seems OK.
There is as usual a woeful lack of women competitors and they are running their races separately. This means that we get off to a stately start with one heat for the 200 IM for two women from different age groups and very different times. As is usual, the slow heats begin – there are only 3 men’s heats and David DPM is in the last. He’s pretty much up there on the first 50 (fly) and also with the backstroke. He’s loosing ground on the breaststroke and coming second and while we are all cheering him on, Martin says that breaststroke is his weakest stroke and confidently continues that if he’s one or two metres behind he can overtake – and he does – chewing up the leading guy, who is 14 years younger and starting to fade – to win. It’s a great start for the team who are by now cheering and clapping loudly. Next up it’s the 50m freestyle splash and dash where Philippe B (Bronze) and Anthony H (Gold) look in very good form. Philippe also gets a bronze for 100m breaststroke, which I miss as I’m getting ready for my 50m Backstroke. I’m in the first of two heats but the only one in my age group – still it’s a decent time for a gold medal. Unfortunately I panic at the finish, putting in an extra stroke and bashing my arm on the hard end wall. Everything is going so fast and with only three heats of men’s 100m freestyle (Jerome & David both took gold) the medley relay is upon us and we have to gather our team. Anthony is around, David has just swum and is getting out of the pool, but where is Philippe? Nowhere on poolside. I call out and Martin goes off to search. Jerome is at the ready to stand in for the 50m breaststroke when Philippe appears. He’s been out the back collecting medals and showing them off to his mates. Our combined ages give us a total of over 200 years and we are competing with two teams of 160+ and one of 120+.
As I’m the backstroker I get to start and apparently kept up with the younger swimmers. As I look back down the pool, Philippe is gaining ground on the breaststroke length. I wait, watching David establish an impressive lead with butterfly, which Anthony maintains with a great freestyle swim to win the heat and four gold medals for team OTS.
We have a fifteen minute break in which I manage to eat a banana and then do a very gentle swim down, just picking up the pace towards the end. First up is my next event the 200m freestyle. Now, it’s fair to say that this is not my favourite distance, but I’ve persisted, often because it’s the only longer distance option in these events and I’ve put in a slower time (3.14.20 Middlesex 14). I’m in heat two and lane 1 (not my favourite lane) and am not the slowest on paper but he’s on the other side of the pool and out of my vision. I decide to take it long and easy to start with and seem to be level with the guy in lane 2. I’m keeping up OK until the turn when he pulls ahead. Note to self – get faster on turns. I can still see him ahead and gain some ground, trying not to push it too much, picking up the pace on length 3 to make up for the slow turns. By length 4, I’ve got enough left in the tank to catch him up and beat him by half a stroke, aided by not breathing for the last 8 strokes. Thanks to a bit of competition from this guy 24 years younger than me, I’ve come in at 3.08.47 and shaved 2 seconds of my BP. I’m loosing track of who’s won what but Anthony and David are in the heats after me (more gold) and then Anthony and Philippe are doing 50m butterfly (even more medals). There are only two heats of men’s 100 backstroke and at last a competitor in my age group. Jerome comes fresh from his 100m breaststroke event to swim the first length of the 4x 50 freestyle relay. There is one other team in the 200+ age group, one in 160+, one 120+ and one team are 100+. It’s clear that youth may predominate here. David catches up swimming second and Philippe holds on to our place. I’m last and we manage a third place (for more gold medals) beating not only our 200+ rivals but also one of the younger teams. There are gold medals everywhere and with a couple of silvers and bronzes, it looks as if we’ve pretty much cleaned up here. After the obligatory team photo for facebook taken by our lovely supporter Martin, we head off with some guys from Amsterdam, Austria and Manchester for a well earned beer.
The sports dinner is not until 22.00 so we are all planning to go and have a snooze. But by the time I get back to the hotel, sort myself out, there’s only time for 15 minutes before setting out for the restaurant. We are all starving and turn up on the dot of 10pm to be first in. It’s a buffet with wine included. We’re sitting with a couple from Helsinki, so the conversation is pretty international. I overhear that the Baltic countries who are members of NATO, are very nervous about Russia. One of the Fins describes Putin as ‘a Nutter’.
Hmm – interesting times. Suddenly, time has run out and I’ve got to go. My flight is at 6.20 tomorrow morning, so I have to miss the free party in favour of four hours sleep. Just maybe I’ll get back one day to see Gaudi’s cathedral completed.