It has been a busy summer for Bahamian swimmers, and it’s about to get even busier, as four Bahamian swimmers will take part in the 18th International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. Those global championships got underway on Friday and will run through Sunday, July 28, 2019.
The Bahamas will be represented by Joanna Evans, Jared Fitzgerald, Margaret Albury-Higgs and Izaak Bastian. The team’s coach is Roric Fink, assistant coach of the women’s swimming and diving program at the University of Texas at Austin – the school of Bahamian swimming sensation Evans.
The meet features various aquatics disciplines at five different locations. The swimming portion will begin on Sunday, July 21, at the Nambu International Aquatics Center.
Evans is the national record holder in five individual races.
The distance swimmer is very experienced at international meets, having placed 13th in the 400 meters (m) freestyle (4:07.60), 23rd in the 800m free (8:42.93) and 37th in the 200m freestyle (2:01.27) at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She will be looking to lower those times in those races in Gwangju, South Korea.
At last year’s Central America and Caribbean (CAC) Games, Evans won gold medals in the 200m free (1:58.03), 400m free (4:11.15) and 800m freestyle (8:44.53). The time in the 200m free was a national record and a meet record swim. The senior at Texas will be representing The Bahamas at her second world championships after competing in Kazan, Russia, in 2015. She is excited to swim against the top swimmers in the world.
“I swam world champs four years ago, but I haven’t been to such a big meet in a few years, so I am excited to get to race some of the best in the world,” she said. “Preparation has gone well and now it’s time for last-minute tune-ups before we travel, and before the meet starts. My goal is to do some personal best swims, and to be able to learn something going into an Olympic year.”
After the meet, Evans said she will begin her preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Evans and Fink are also both representing the Texas Longhorns, and she is excited that he will be going with them to the meet.
“Team Bahamas always does a great job of sending knowledgeable coaches to these meets. It’s always a little harder when you’ve got swimmers who are all based in different locations, but I’m excited because [Fink] is super knowledgeable and excited to travel with us to help us perform at our best,” said Evans.
Albury-Higgs will be in the pool swimming in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events. She is the current national record holder in the 100m breast.
Albury-Higgs is heading into her senior year with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. She has the school record in both the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke events.
Albury-Higgs swam 59.69 seconds in the 100-yard breast at this year’s NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I Swimming Championships in Austin, Texas, to finish 17th overall. In the 200-yard breast, she swam 2:07.40 at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships in Athens, Georgia, for fourth overall.
She was at the CAC Games with Evans and Bastian last year and picked up a bronze medal in the women’s 200m breaststroke with a time of 2:30.83. In the women’s 100m breaststroke, she swam 1:10.03 but did not advance to the final.
At the 2019 Bahamas National Swimming Championships last month, Albury-Higgs swam a time of 1:10.03 to win the 15-and-over girls 100m breaststroke. She also won the 200m breaststroke, touching the wall in 2:34.09.
Bastian will be swimming in the 50m and 100m breaststroke races at the worlds. The Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles swimmer, who is entering his sophomore year, will be swimming in his first world championships, but this will not be his first senior meet. Like Evans, he was at the CAC Games and the Commonwealth Games last year.
“Honestly, it is a different feeling going to these bigger meets instead of CARIFTA. Once you get to this level the team is a lot smaller – it’s only four people going to world championships for us, so it is definitely a closer team environment. At the same time, it is only four of us, so you feel a little more pressure to do something because more eyes are on you and you feel more important to the team,” Bastian said.
At this year’s CARIFTA Swimming Championships in Wildey, Barbados, the elite junior swimmer swam the 15-17 boys’ 50m breaststroke race in a time of 28.20 seconds to drop .49 seconds off his previous personal best of 28.69 seconds. At that same meet, he won the 15-17 boys 100m breaststroke race in 1:02.84, shaving .07 seconds off his previous personal best time of 1:02.91.
“I want to go out there and represent as best as I can. I don’t really have any placement goals. I want to go there, get this experience under my belt and do the best that I can. I want to represent The Bahamas as best as I can and swim my heart out. Hopefully, I can get some personal best times. I’m saving some for the junior world championships that is at the end of this summer,” Bastian said.
He wants to see what he can do and hopefully make a name for himself at these bigger meets although he is only 18 years old.
According to Bastian, his preparation for South Korea has been going well.
“Preparation for this meet has been going well. I have been swimming with my brother (Drew Bastian), being my main coach. We are out by the pool doing my sets and getting the work done. I will then go to the gym and do some lifts. I also did a little cardio and anything that will set you apart from the group and put you a little ahead. Preparation has been going well based on the last few practices, and with the times I have been doing in practice, it should be a promising sign,” Bastian said.
After this meet, he will be heading to Budapest, Hungary, to swim at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships. Bastian wants to make a name for himself there as well.
After the junior worlds, Bastian will be going back to school to continue training for the collegiate season. He hopes to represent The Bahamas at the Olympics next year.
Bastian holds numerous swimming records at CARIFTA, and is also the holder of seven national records – four individual and three relays.
Like Albury-Higgs, Bastian made the trip to Austin, Texas, and swam in his first NCAA Championships.
Fitzgerald will be in the pool swimming in the 50m and 100m freestyle events. The University of Tampa Spartans junior will be looking to put on a show in those races.
At the Bahamas National Swimming Championships, Fitzgerald dropped time in the 50m freestyle, swimming 24.04 seconds to finish fourth in the 15-and-over boys category.
The 20-year-old picked up a win in the 15-and-over 100m freestyle as he swam 51.29 seconds – a .93 second drop from his previous personal best of 52.22 seconds.
He will be going against some of the best swimmers in the world at the world championships.
Fitzgerald has been practicing and putting in the work in order to perform well in South Korea.
On the collegiate scene, his best time in the 100-yard freestyle is 44.70 seconds.
The team is small one, but it is full with young and promising talent that has the ability to perform well on the big stage. The team will have a couple days to train together and get acclimatized to their surroundings.
Bahamian swimmers are also preparing for the Pan American Games, which is set for July 26 to August 11. The swimming portion of the Pan Am Games will be from August 6 to August 10.
Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism