Records fall as EFSL championships open
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2016
EINDHOVEN, Netherlands – There is a certain undeniable energy that surrounds the culminating event of any competitive sport.
It’s a blend of high energy, boundless optimism and good old-fashioned nervousness, and it’s one that creates an infectiously exciting atmosphere.
That feeling was most definitely in the chilly Dutch air as the European Forces Swim League Championships kicked off Saturday. Nearly 500 swimmers from seven countries are taking part in this year’s finals, one of the largest of its kind for American youth living in Europe.
Young and seasoned swimmers alike felt the pressure as the finals begin.
Alaina Scifo, a senior who has accumulated more than a few records during her nine-year swimming career, said even she wasn’t wholly immune from it.
“I get nervous before every meet, but it’s a good nervous,” Scifo said prior to Saturday’s start. “I’m definitely excited to be here.”
As it turns out, that nervousness was unwarranted. Scifo finished strong, taking the top spots in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter breaststroke, 400-meter freestyle and second place behind Kaiserslautern’s Emma Thomas in the 100-meter butterfly.
Her brother, Dominic, contributed his fair share to the family trophy case. In addition to his three top finishes, he broke the 100-meter butterfly record with a time of exactly 59 seconds. The last person to set that record? Dominic, last year.
With that record falling farther and farther out of reach, and considering his 35 standing records, one might think the 16-year-old wouldn’t be pushing himself so hard at every meet. That thought hadn’t even crossed his mind.
“There is always another year you can do it,” he said. “You can always tack off another second, put on another year, or shove the record even deeper. Like most things, the goal should be to better than you were before.”
The Scifos were hardly alone in repeating the successes of past championships. Geilenkirchen’s Hylcke de Beer returned to dominate the under 8-year-old bracket, breaking records in the 100-meter individual medley with a final time of 1:26.46 and another in the 50-meter breaststroke with a time of 0:45.10. She also grabbed gold in the 200-meter freestyle in 2:53.23.
De Beer has had a busy year. Not only did she break eight separate records during the season, but she also recently went international, medaling five times in the Dutch Nationals.
Stuttgart’s Ella Bathurst was perhaps the most overall impressive swimmer of the event. She also is not unfamiliar with the upper echelon of EFSL swimmers. Last year, she broke a handful of records on each day of the competition.
It appears that she’s continuing that trend this time around, too.
On Saturday, Bathurst broke records in 100-meter medley with a time of 1:08.46, the 50-meter butterfly in 0:31.59 , the 50-meter breaststroke with a 0:36.17 and the 200-meter freestyle in 2:15.74.
All in all, just another day of swimming for the Piranhas’ most-decorated swimmer.
“I have great coaches and the swimmers who swim around us, whether older or younger, we all work together so we’re pushing each other during practice,” she said.
Maddie Davenport also had a day to remember, winning three separate events in the girls’ 10-year-old bracket. The Vicenza swimmer chalked up wins in the 100-meter breaststroke, the 50-meter butterfly and the 100-meter individual medley.
Kaiserslautern’s Annika Zimmerer also enjoyed a fair amount of success, breaking the 200-meter freestyle record with a 2:21.92 and grabbing gold in the 100-meter individual medley and the 50-meter butterfly.
These swimmers – and more – will do it all again Sunday.
“I’m rooting for my teammates,” Stuttgart’s Ariana Lewis said. “But if I get a second to think of myself, I think ‘all the hard work paid off.’”
Geilenkirchen's Hylcke de Beer, a returning champion in the girls 8-and-under 100-meter individual medley, won the opening event of the 2016 European Forces Swim League Championship in Eindhoven, Netherlands, with a time of 1:26.16, Saturday Feb. 27, 2016. De Beer finished that event more than 17 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES