Regular readers of Comanís Swimming Club news will know how many superlatives have been used to describe the extraordinary performances of 12-year-old Sarah Kelly over the past two years, but the superlatives are running out, and your correspondent is struggling to find words to describe this remarkable young athlete in the same way that her opponents struggle to keep up with her.
The latest exploits of the Castlerea girl at the Irish Age Groups Division 1 gala last weekend have left many people involved in Irish swimming mesmerised in much the same way. The very best of her age in the country, Sarah swept before her when she became All Ireland Champion in the 11-12 age group for the second year in a row in no less than eight events, and was runner up in another out of the 10 in which she competed over three days last weekend at the National Aquatic Centre, Dublin, beating her total of seven gold and two silver medals in 2009.
The format for the gala was as per all major competitions, with early morning heats leading to finals in the evening in all 100m and 200m events. 400m Freestyle and Individual Medley events and 800m (girls) and 1500m (boys) Freestyle events were decided on heat times only, with the fastest heat of the longer events held in the finals session each day.
Friday morning began with 200m butterfly, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley heats, where Sarah comfortably reached the evening finals of all three. She also had the fastest heat of the 800m freestyle to look forward to, and this, not surprisingly, led to gold medal number one. However, what was not predictable was her time of 9:26.41, which was a personal best by 13 seconds and 33 seconds ahead of her nearest rival. The stewards were calling Sarah for the final of the 200m Butterfly while she was still in the water in her 800m race, and she raced back to the start just in time, but it didnít stop her from winning her second gold in 2:31.60. Sarah missed out on a medal in the 100m backstroke final, where she was 5th in a personal best of 1:17.12, but returned to winning ways when she took her third gold medal in the 200m IM final, where another personal best of 2:35.34 was her winning time.
Saturday followed a similar pattern. Sarah was involved in heats of the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle in the morning, comfortably reaching both finals, while she was also in the fastest heat of the 400m freestyle on Saturday evening. Again, the longer swim gave Sarah an expected gold medal, with the winning time of 4:42.46 yet another personal best. However, the next final, 100m butterfly provided the most stunning performance of the day as Sarah Kelly, aged 12, remember, shattered the Connacht Senior Long Course record for this event, previously held for the past three years by 17-year-old Angela OíConnor of Galway SC, by more than a full second with an incredible time of 1:05.47. This now gives Sarah the Connacht Long Course record in both 100m and 200m Butterfly. For good measure, Sarah also won the 100m freestyle final taking a 6th gold medal in a Club record of 1:02.96, yet another long course personal best.
Sundayís programme saw Sarah reach the final of both 200m backstroke and 200m freestyle, and this gave her three more swims in the last session of the weekend as she was in the fastest heat of the 400m individual medley as well. Gold number seven duly arrived in that 400m IM where Sarah shattered her personal best and set another Connacht Senior Record with an incredible time of 5:21.29, and her 8th and final win came in the 200m Freestyle final where her time of 2:14.37 was a club record. Finally, Sarah took her only silver medal of the gala for her 200m Backstroke in 2:38.81, 0.76 of a second behind the winner, Claire Diffley of Viking SC in Dublin, in a nail-biting finish.
These brilliant results are, hopefully, not yet the pinnacle of Sarahís season. In late July, she will swim in the 800m and 1500m Freestyle and the 100m and 200m Butterfly in the Girls 13 year olds category at the British Age Groups event to be held in Sheffield, where she is one of three Connacht swimmers who have qualified for this prestigious championship, which has been Sarahís target all season. In this sort of form, she may cause an upset across the pond, and everyone associated with Comanís wish her continued success.