WIIGA Preview - Swimmers keen to make a bigger splash in Gotland

The WIIGA Swim team (missing is Matthew Hanlon). Kara, Lucy, Kathryn, Isla and Katie.
The WIIGA Swim team (missing is Matthew Hanlon). Kara, Lucy, Kathryn, Isla and Katie.

Back in 2013 Western Isles Island Games swimmers Kathryn Offer and Kara Hanlon produced stunning swims in the warm waters of Bermuda where they stretched their fingertips onto the podium only to have the silverware yanked from the grasp by margins as small as 0.14 seconds.

Fast forward two years and the girls were hell-bent on not coming home empty handed again.

In Jersey 2015 the dolphin splendour of the girls was unmistakable as both landed gold medals and smashed long standing Island Games records at the same time.

After a number of near misses for the girls they locked on WIIGA’s first ever swimming medals like a pair of Great White’s zeroing-in on floating seal meat.

After six fourth place finishes in the past Offer walked into the WIIGA HQ – the team hotel in Jersey – with a gold gong for 50m backstroke hanging proudly around her neck.

Kathryn touched home almost a full second ahead of second-placed swimmer Courtney

Butcher of Guernsey. Her time of 28.79 also set a new NatWest Island Games record smashing the

old record of 29.47.

And Kara - just 18 at the time – swam to FOUR medals with gold in the 200m breastroke following a hat-trick of silvers with incredible swims in 50m breaststroke, 100m breaststroke and 100m individual medley.

Packing their goggles for the second successive games are the hugely promising schoolgirl trio of

Lucy Doig, Katie Murray and Isla Budge but this time they will be joined by the Western Isles first male swimmer to compete at the Games as 15-year-old Matthew Hanlon joins the squad.

“Jersey was the best organised and run of all three Island Games I’ve attended with the Western Isles,” remarked WIIGA Swim team manager Davie Hanlon.

“The whole week was run superbly well but to win our first swimming medals was the icing on the cake – topped with some Games records too. To see Kara break the Games record then Kathryn later after such a long time was amazing and she really deserved it.”

He continued: “It’s been going well and all the swimmers have been working so hard ahead of the Games.

“Kathryn has been training steadily all year long and she is looking strong. She hasn’t been in many competitions recently but in the 100 free she went under a minute for the first time, which at 25 is amazing for her age.

“Isla has been concentrating on the longest distances which she is very strong at and it’s great to see herself, Katie Murray and Lucy Doig continue to improve. We are hoping one or two of the younger girls can move up and make a couple of finals but that won’t be easy in a five lane pool.

“Had there been eight lane pools it would have been easier for the young girls to qualify for the finals.

They will certainly be top 10 finishes in each race and the girls need this experience as the standard is so high.

“Matthew is swimming well just now. He just turned 15 at the start of the month and like his sister Kara, he favours the breast stroke and is strongest in it.

“DR Morrison has been working really well with the squad four nights a week and he is coming with us this year which is terrific and we owe him a huge thanks.”

A top swimmer’s life is an epic of early starts and gruelling repetition but sacrifice is something swimmers are used to as Kara reveals she will miss some of the events she medalled in two years ago as she has to fly back to the UK for competitions which are doubling up as Commonwealth Games qualifiers.

“Unfortunately I have to leave Gotland on the Wednesday to come back to Aberdeen for the Scottish Open,” she admits.

“I will compete in Gotland on Monday and Tuesday then compete at Scottish open on Friday Saturday and Sunday of the same week.

“The Scottish Open is another qualification meet for the Commonwealth ?Games so that is why I am coming back. The dates clash unfortunately and that means I will miss the 100 breast and 100 Individual medley, both of which I got a medal for in Jersey.”

Kara’s preparation for Gotland has been busy with the year kicking off in Luxembourg at the Euro Meet in January before swimming in Amsterdam in March and subsequently earning a call to swim with Scottish swimming in Australia for a two week camp.

Even more recently Kara was in Sheffield for the British Championships which went really well.

At the first tapered meet of the season Kara finished fifth in the 50m breast stroke with a time of 31.62 which was a PB and just 0.13 off the required Commonwealth Games qualifying time.

Kara also touched home first to win her Target Tokyo final in the 200m breast stroke with a time right on her PB which saw her finish ninth overall. She was also 12th overall in the 100 with a time fractionally outside her PB.

“We have two more competitions to get the Commonwealth times, the Scottish Open in June and British Summer meet in July,” added Kara.

“I have a busy few months ahead of me with three exams, then France for a swim camp and some racing from the 2nd-19th of June, then I go to the Island Games for four days before flying back to Aberdeen for the Scottish Open.”