EINDHOVEN, Netherlands — If competitors at the 2013 European Forces Swim League championship meet learned anything on Saturday, it was not to take any race for granted.
Close races were the norm during the opening day of the EFSL championship meet. Many favorites and champs from last year left the deck hoping to reverse their fortunes on Sunday, while others probably won’t stop grinning until the early morning chill of the warm-up pool reminds them that work is still to be done.
For the fourth straight year, the meet is being held at the world-class National Zwemcentrum de Tongelreep in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The final two-day competition of the season showcases 492 swimmers, ages 6 to 19, from 19 teams. The swimmers attend DODDS and international schools throughout Europe.
Compared to years past, Saturday’s event was marked by parity, as 34 different swimmers earned at least one gold medal.
Vincent de Munter of the Geilenkirchen Orcas came into Saturday’s meet hoping to keep his streak going from last season. Last year, the Orcas star took home eight gold medals, one in each individual event he swam, and five league records in his first year competing in the EFSL.
Although de Munter still won three events on Saturday, a great day in the pool for most anybody, Christopher Berg from the Stuttgart Piranhas pulled off an upset in the 12-year-old boys 50-meter breaststroke. Berg’s time of 40.20 edged out de Munter’s 40.31 and Kaiserslautern’s Joshua Choi’s 40.34.
Berg said he's been training a lot for the 50-meter breaststroke, but admitted he expected to get second place in that race, behind de Munter.
"I was a little surprised," Berg said, adding it gives him an edge for the rest of the meet. "It's a confidence boost, tells me I can do this."
The only two swimmers to dominate their age group by winning all four individual events in their age group on opening day came from the Wiesbaden Wahoos.
EFSL veteran Chantel Wynn captured the 400-meter freestyle gold along with the 100-meter free, butterfly and breaststroke in the girls 17-19 year-old age group.
Wynn’s teammate, 8-year-old Tyler Peng, also won four events on the day and notched a league record in the 8-and-under boys 200-meter freestyle. Peng’s time of 3:05.60 shattered the previous record by almost two seconds.
The only other league record set on Saturday came from Brussels Octopus standout Niki Buggenhout, 12. Buggenhout put her name in the league books with a 37.77 in the 50-meter breaststroke, besting the previous mark from 2009 of 38.16. Buggenhout capped her day with victories in the 100-meter individual medley and 200-meter freestyle.
For some swimmers, such as Berlin Bear-A-Cuda Lili Seubert, winning gold was satisfying after just missing in previous years.
“I was really happy because it was the first time,” Seubert, 11, said about winning her first championship race in her seventh season of EFSL swimming. Seubert went on to win three events on the day: the 100-meter individual medley, 200-meter freestyle and the 50-meter breaststroke.
Kaiserslautern Kingfish Everett Plocek, a junior at Ramstein High School, started off his day with what was, arguably, the race of the day.
Plocek managed to get off the blocks fast and pulled off a much better start than Sigonella’s Brian Burke. Burke was able to climb back in the race and hit the flip turn .08 seconds faster than Plocek. Plocek and Burke swam neck-and-neck the rest of the way, but it was the timing of Plocek’s finish that gave him enough to win. His 56.28 time nipped by Burke, who clocked in at 56.42.
The 16-year-old Kingfish, who tapered and shaved his body for the meet, said his work on the starting blocks after practice paid off for him, but he also credited his stamina.
“Having the endurance until the end to kick it into another gear,” Plocek said about the win, one of three on the day.
Other triple-event winners on Saturday included:
Luke Patterson, 9, Naples Tiger Sharks; Sebastian Lunak, 10, NATO Marlins; Benjamin Balla, 11, SHAPE Seals; Alaina Scifo, 15, Lakenheath Barracuda; Kilian Korth, 17, Lakenheath.
Competition resumes Sunday at 9:45 a.m.