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2015 NatWest Island Games / Andrea wins again… and hammer glory for Elaine

A proud moment for Elaine Park (left) as she receives her silver medal for the hammer throw. Photo courtesy of Shetland Island Games Association

TOP SHETLAND swimmer Andrea Strachan has been racking up the medals again down in Jersey, breaking a games record to win gold in the 100m breaststroke and taking her overall medal tally this week to four.

Meanwhile, in the track and field athlete Elaine Park has also done the isles proud by claiming silver in the hammer throw.

Elaine was delighted after her 38.67 metre throw pipped the Isle of Wight’s Wallis Canning to second place on Wednesday evening.

It was the eighth NatWest Island Games she had competed in and her first ever medal. “It all still feels a bit surreal,” Elaine said. “I went into the competition thinking I had a chance at bronze if I threw well. It was my last round throw that pulled me up from fourth into silver medal position and I’m just delighted.”

In the pool it was yet another glorious night for Andrea, who has won a formidable collection of silverware for Team Shetland down the years.

Alongside a gold in the breaststroke in a games record time of 1:08.33, she was able to claim silver in the 50m freestyle – a time of 26.43 leaving her sandwiched between two Isle of Man swimmers, Charlotte Atkinson (gold) and Laura Kinley (silver).

Afterwards, Andrea said she was “really pleased” with how the night had panned out. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, so I’m really happy to come out with a gold and silver. I’m pretty happy about my 100 breaststroke, which was a personal best for me as well.”

She said the competition she has faced has been very strong.

“In the breaststroke there’s two other girls, [The Western Isles’] Kara Hanlon and Laura Kinley, and throughout the year I’ve been racing Kara quite a bit. She’s come on a lot. She’s been beating me most of the time, so I knew it would be tough out here.”

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There was a great effort from distance runner Michelle Sandison, who finished fourth in the women’s 10,000 metres.

Her race time of 37:22.43 – a personal best – was only very slightly behind Guernsey’s Louise Perrio who ran 37:21.72. Michelle’s teammate Katie Bristow had led the race at the halfway point before unfortunately having to drop out.

Shetland’s volleyball team fought hard to take the first set 25-21 against Guernsey on Wednesday before succumbing by three sets to one in their final group game.

Earlier on Wednesday, swimming coach Lorraine Gifford said the team were enjoying the slightly cooler and mistier weather after Tuesday’s high temperatures.

She said the team had done “really well” as a whole, reaching lots of finals on Monday and Tuesday.

As an indicator of the standard in the men’s competition, her son Felix Gifford – who won gold in Monday’s 200m butterfly – was “the only one who hasn’t been to the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics” in Wednesday’s 100m freestyle final.

He came sixth in that race, a time of 51.58 only a second and a half outside the medals.

Lorraine said: “The strength of the competition is amazing – especially the boys. There’s so many Commonwealth and Olympic swimmers here. Andrea usually has the breaststroke races all her own way, but Kara Hanlon has really come on.”

She added the swimming team morale was very good, with Monday’s two golds boosting the team and “the atmosphere was really good after that”.

At the end of day four, Shetland remained in a very respectable ninth out of 24 in the overall medal table – a tally of four golds, six silvers and six bronzes.

Meanwhile, Shetland’s football manager Niall Bristow has been talking about how proud he is of the squad’s achievements this week.

They managed a major scalp in outscoring the Isle of Wight to top their four-team group on goal difference, following up a goalless draw in their opening game with commanding victories over Hitra (4-1) and the Falklands (5-0).

He said expectations within the squad had grown over the last six months but they still went to Jersey knowing “we would be underdogs in the group, and feared that going down the goal difference route would be a struggle – historically Shetland [are] not good at that but the response in terms of drive not just to win … but to put Isle of Wight under pressure was relentless”.

“What has surprised even me slightly is our fitness levels,” Niall said. “I knew we were fit but they’ve been outstanding in that respect.”

The youthful, energetic squad is supplemented by a sprinkling wise, experienced heads – the manager describing captain Leighton Flaws, scorer of four goals, as “a true leader on and off the pitch”, while another 2005 veteran, James Johnston, is a “perfect role model”.

“The younger players have been willing in every department  – to learn, to be part of the team and put the effort in.”

He said the whole squad could be proud of their efforts, with Erik Thomson’s contribution a standout against Hitra, while youngster Finn Watt had impressed hugely in all three matches. He had never performed competitively for Shetland at senior level before but Bristow said he has played “like an established veteran”.

Looking ahead to Thursday evening’s semi final against the Isle of Man, he said the Island games footballing fraternity would be expecting their opponents to make the final against Guernsey.

“I’m a realist,” he said. “I would compare us (in Island Games terms) to a good championship side who have knocked out a top half premiership side and now have to face a top four team.

“However, these guys could take their eye off the ball and believe that Island Games semis are a given. We don’t know when the next might come along. We intend to make the most of it.”

On a personal level, Niall led the team to gold medal glory on home turf in 2005 so he remains unbeaten in Island Games competition. Meanwhile his daughter Katie was also in action at the athletics track – meaning his nerves were “shredded” even on the football team’s day off.

“I’ll be more nervous tonight than any of the matches so far,” he said. “Of course myself and Ian are immensely proud of our unbeaten record, and [it] proves the quality of the players we’ve had the privilege to work with.

“I’m very proud of everyone in my immediate and ‘extended’ family – I’m a very lucky guy.”

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