The IISA GB Championships 2019 were held on the 5 and 6 January at Hatfield Outdoor Activity Centre, Yorkshire, in partnership with SwimYourSwim. Sadly, the mild weather meant that the water, at 5.5 degrees Celsius, did not quite dip below the required 5 degrees to qualify as officially “icy”. However, this did not dull the enthusiasm of the competitors who travelled from all over the UK and as far afield as Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Colombia to join the fun. And with the 3rd IISA World Championships due to be held in Murmansk, Russia, in March, GB team members turned up in force to rehearse the ice kilometre in race conditions.
Men and women of all ages came to enjoy the water, with the youngest swimmer just 17 and the oldest a youthful 66. Despite an early threat of rain, the weather held out throughout the weekend (apart from being too warm, obviously).
IISA rules require that a swimmer wear only a standard costume, single hat and goggles and there are strict safety and medical prerequisites for the main 1,000m event. Participants competed in a range of events from 50m breaststroke up to the flagship kilometre.
In the men’s 1,000m newcomer Ross Wisby strongly challenged defending champion James Leitch early on, but experience showed through as James caught up and pulled away, continuing to extend his lead as the race went on. Team GB legend and veteran, Rory Fitzgerald, put in a sterling performance to come in third overall with what would have been an age group world record had the water been just half a degree cooler.
The cream of the British ladies, 2018 champion Jade-Fern Perry and 2018 runner up Caroline Saxon, went head-to-head again in the ladies’ 1,000m in what proved to be an exciting battle. In a reverse of the 2018 result, this time Caroline triumphed with Heidi Brice claiming the third podium position.
The day ended with a very social dinner at which the championship trophies were presented along with prizes for the top three places in each age group.
Day two brought some welcome sunshine for the shorter events of 500m and below. Continuing the carnival atmosphere of the previous day, participants and spectators enjoyed background music, cowbells (yes, really) and commentary provided by the irrepressible and witty MC, Alistair Beatty. The 500m race was held in memory of Daniel Fryatt, son of IISA GB Chairman, Kate Steels-Fryatt and raised almost £200 for the Samaritans.
There were some tightly fought races, with several of the competitors dipping in and out of the chilly water to take part in multiple distances. The men’s 50m breaststroke was a real nail-biter with Bryan Avery pipping Greg Clarke to the post in a very closely fought sprint. The ladies’ 50m breaststroke saw a mum versus daughter battle between Sarah and Ellen Taylor with Sarah just coming in ahead of Ellen.
One of the many highlights of the second day was the 250m which gave people a chance to race over the required distance and put themselves forward for selection for the "international 4 x 250m relay race" at the world championships in Murmansk. Hopefully team GB will do well. The weekend ended with a fun 4 x 25m relay with fancy dress optional, which encouraged one team to break out their jellyfish costumes.
IISA GB is extremely grateful for the generous donations from contributors including Alec Richardson, Andark Lake, Aquapac, Big Bobble Hats, Blackfish Swimwear, Caroline Saxon, Charles Macleod Ltd, Cliff Lakes, Helly Hansen, Hebridean Sea Swimmers, Kitbrix, Mailsports, Nancy Farmer, Outdoor Swimming Magazine, Outdoor Swimming Society, ProBioShine Ltd, Sigma Embroidery, Strel Swimming Adventures, Swim Secure and Swimyourswim. In addition, Charlie McLeod are kindly donating sports cloaks for all members of team GB to wear in Murmansk.
Ice swimming is growing rapidly and IISA hosts a series of events all over the world. With the performances seen this year the future of GB Ice swimming looks very rosy.