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Conor and James lead gold rush at Irish Open


By David Kelly

Conor Ferguson and James Brown led an Ulster blitz of gold medals on the final day of competition at the Irish Open swimming championships in the National Aquatic Centre.

In the final individual race of the evening, Ferguson set a new Irish record of 25.24 in the 50m backstroke to take gold and also book his place at the World senior championships.

The junior record came on the back of his 200m backstroke senior record set on Saturday. Ferguson became the first Irishman to break the two-minute mark in the 200m back when he clocked 1:59.29 in the heats before taking gold in 1:58.80 in the evening.

The 50m back win completed a hat-trick of backstroke titles for 17-year-old Ferguson, who is based at Ellesmere College in Cheshire. He now has to weigh up whether he targets the World seniors and juniors or simply the latter championships at the end of August in Indianapolis.

Ards man Brown produced one of the performances of his career when he struck gold in the 200m individual medley in a new Irish record of 2:02.90, over a second quicker than the previous best set five years ago.

Ards coach Nelson Lindsay said: "That was a great swim from James and the kind of performance I've been waiting to see from him for a while. He's been in Loughborough University for a couple of years now and the benefits are starting to be seen.

"Not only did he beat the Irish record by a second but it was also a 2.7 PB so he's in really good form. With the Commonwealth Games next year he needs to go a little quicker but he's looking very good now."

Lisburn's Rachel Bethel swam to her fourth title of the championships in the 1500m freestyle. The 17-year-old had won the 200m, 400m and 800m free and cruised to victory in the 1500m in 17:21.13. Bethel's younger sister Leah joined her on the podium for silver in 17:54.19.

Larne's Danielle Hill doubled up on her national titles bringing her tally to four with wins in the 50m freestyle (26.18) and 50m backstroke (28.83). She had already won the 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke titles.

Lurgan's 15-year-old Shannon Russell came to the fore when she won the 400m individual medley title and yesterday landed 200m medley gold in 2:19.69. Shannon leaves the championships having clocked consideration times for the European Youth Olympics in seven different events.

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