Chichester swim is special in more ways than one

The SOGB group at the Chichester open-water swim
The SOGB group at the Chichester open-water swim

Chichester Watersports Centre at Westhampnett Lake welcomed 80 swimmers for the ASA south east region open water swimming championships.

The organisers set a standard 500m course, marked out with large yellow buoys, for a standard range of events - 3km, 2km, 1,500m and, for the first time in Great Britain, partnered with Special Olympics Great Britain to stage the inaugural national SOGB open water event.

There were convincing wins for Robert Griffiths (Rushmoor) and Nicole Ryan (Windsor) in the 2km and James Butcher (Farnham) and Chloe Pollard (Crawley) in the 3k.

For the 1,500m, 1,000m and 500m, 45 athletes include 11 from the Special Olympics group. It was a new experience for the mainstream athletes to hear Scott Cleaver (SO Essex) read the SOGB athletes oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It was greeted by the waiting swimmers with tremendous cheers and applause.

The swim ended back where it started, against a pontoon full of judges and timekeepers, and the athletes themselves made their way to shower and change, most happy at completing, some relishing their victory.

The regional 1,500m was won by Sam Crabtree (Thanet) and Kate Hadley (Ringwood), but the cheers were loud for the 11 Special Olympics athletes who successfully navigated their way round the course, heralding in a new era of competition.

To round off the day, their medals were presented by two special guests - Emily Onley, the sports and services manager for SOGB, and Charlotte Woollascroft, former GB International open water team member and GB champion.

It’s a special year for these athletes as they prepare to travel to Bath at the end of August to take part in arguably the largest multi-sport event in GB in 2013 - the Special Olympics GB national summer games, where these 11 athletes will find themselves among almost 400 swimmers for three days of national swimming competition, already proudly wearing their national medals won at Chichester.