Renowned, glamorous, and fast. These are three words that might spring to mind when you think of the Mare Nostrum Tour that takes place in southern Europe every year. The three-stage tour has stops in Canet (France) and Barcelona (Spain), along with the spectacular sovereign and independent state, the Principality of Monaco.
The 2014 tour drew to a close last week and we met up with British competitors Sophie Allen and Alys Thomas for a discussion about their experience and thoughts on what sets Mare Nostrum apart from other international meets.
Sophie: I’d compare Mare Nostrum to the Diamond League for athletics, a series of three competitions in three different places all linked together, attracting athletes from around the world. It creates a world-class level of competition during the training season and produces fast swims in all different events.
Alys: I think other international meets that are spread over 5 or 6 days can be more intense, where as Mare Nostrum has a more relaxed atmosphere and is more swimmer orientated, but still produced the quality and depth in results.
Sophie: I’d agree with that, it has a similar feel to the short course world cup series. Back-to-back racing during the training season is always great practice for getting you ready for summer, so it was nice for us to have this leading into Commonwealth Games. And there’s always a great crowd for Mare Nostrum. With it being a yearly thing in Monaco, Canet and Barcelona, the locals are now well aware of the event and we usually get a great turn out.
Alys: That was something I was surprised at. This was my first year competing there and in all honesty I wasn’t prepared for the level competition that was there and the crowd support. I thought perhaps a few local French and Spanish clubs and maybe a couple top names. But when I walked on poolside I saw people walking round in kit from China, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, US. It’s not just the expected European competitors, it’s competitors from all over the world. Mare Nostrum draws in a wide crowd!
Sophie: I think that’s because being more than one competition it makes it worth their while to make the trip. As a result it produces perfect international racing opportunities. Not everyone swims amazingly as it’s during training season, however with it attracting swimmers from across the world there’s always people raising the bar.
Alys: I found it was also a great experience to race in some different pools against people you don’t normally race. You get used to swimming in the UK all the time; same pool, same faces, same races. But to go somewhere different, with a change of environment allows you to change things up and keep it fresh.
Sophie: Definitely, the skins events in Monaco especially made an exciting change because most competitions don’t have them. They’re always fun to watch, but in one of the second rounds this year a guy completely took the block out of the floor, luckily he was ok but it was pretty funny! I’m sure he won’t let his strength and conditioning coach forget that anytime soon!
Alys: I’m gutted I wasn’t there to see that! The fact that each stage is held over two days as well makes it short and sweet. There’s no hanging around, you race two days travel to the next location, race another two days, travel again, race again. It’s hard but something you can learn a lot from.
Sophie: I think you go to this series knowing it’s going to be tough, which always creates a fast environment.
Alys: And the prize money is a definite incentive to swim fast too!
Sophie: Definitely, that always makes a competition special because we don’t often get prize money!
Alys: Yeah, that was an added bonus for me after the surprise of getting on the podium given the depth of European and world-class swimmers.
Sophie: I think it’s also a great experience because you’re in these amazing cities. We didn’t get to see much of them during the meet, but on the last night we got to go see the sights. This year I went into Monte Carlo to Casino Square, which was insane! I could have sat there all evening just checking out all the amazing cars driving through!
Alys: I managed to get a walk along the beach in Canet and got a quick visit to the Sagrada Familia before we left Barcelona. Both places were stunning. Hopefully I’ll get to go back next year!
Sophie and Alys are ambassadors for blueseventy and wore nero14 during the Mare Nostrum tour.
Congratulations also to blueseventy athlete Chris Walker-Hebborn who won three bronze medals in the 50 and 100 backstroke at the Monaco and Barcelona stages of Mare Nostrum.
Follow the team on Twitter @alys_thomas@SophieAllen12 and @WalkerHebborn as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Scotland this July.
Interested in #swimmingfaster in blueseventy? Then visit www.blueseventy.com
See Sophie and Aly’s tweeted image from the Mare Nostrum Tour below:
Swimming News courtesy of blueseventy, a SwimSwam partner.