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The Royal School Wolverhampton’s Swim Club Head Coach, Marc Spackman, and Royal School pupil Matthew Richards recently took part in the incredible, second season of the International Swimming League (ISL) in Budapest, Hungary in late October. Spackman was called up to coach the New York Breakers while Richards was invited to compete with the team.

The racing filled the hole of no swimming competitions this year and gave swimming fans, and the world’s top swimmers and coaches from across the globe, an opportunity to feel excited again in a tough year for everyone, particularly swimmers with pools being closed.

The ISL is a professional swimming league established in 2019. It features a team-based competition format with fast-paced race sessions and big prize money on offer. This year’s competitors included top class athletes such as Sarah Sjostrom (Energy Standard), Caeleb Dressel (Cali Condors), Ranomi Kromowidjojo (Team Iron), and Nathan Adrian (New York Breakers).

The ISL swimmers and coaches all stayed on Margaret Island in Hungary in a sophisticated “bubble” and the series ended without a single positive case of Covid-19. The Racing took place in the Duna Arena in Budapest, home of the 2017 World Championships, and one of the top swimming venues in the world.

The teams taking part this year were DC Trident (Washington DC USA), LA Current (Los Angeles USA), New York Breakers (New York City USA)Cali Condors (San Francisco USA), Energy Standard (Paris France), London Roar (London UK), Team Iron (Budapest Hungary), Aqua Centurions (Rome Italy), and Tokyo Frog Kings (Tokyo Japan).

The racing really was a sight to behold and it was great to see various strategies applied, resulting in some really unpredictable outcomes. As well as enhanced strategy, the production team really stepped up to create an amazing swimming venue. Lights, colour, smoke and a DJ on poolside turned this event into a real celebration of swimming power.

Coaching The New York Breakers, Spackman was responsible for some of GB’s top swimmers such as Molly Renshaw, Abbie Wood and James Wilby along with The Royal School’s European Junior Champion Matthew Richards. Richards had a cracker of a meet, swimming outstandingly throughout the course of the series. Pitted up against the best swimmers in the world such as Caeleb Dressel and Florent Manaudou, Richards held his own.

The winning medley relay team got to choose the stroke for the Skins event at the end of the meet. We saw breaststroke and backstroke Skins early on in the series, with USA’s Lilly King and The Netherland’s Ranomi Kromowidjojo winning Most Valuable Person status and the greatly enhanced prize money that comes with it. The Skins events proved to be the winning race more than once in the series.

In addition, new rules such as the ‘jackpot times’ added intrigue and proved to be a real challenge when selecting teams. Sometimes opting to field a slower swimmer to save their best for another race, which ran the risk of being jackpotted! The jackpot is designed to reward the winner by beating other swimmers by a large margin. Swimmers slower than the cut off time get their points and sometimes prize money taken away.

‘Athletes and coaches came together from different nations with unique ideas and backgrounds to help the athletes perform to their best ability,’ Coach Spackman said.  He added, ‘The staff on the NYB team were excellent to work with and from the US, Denmark, Holland, Russia, Poland and Hungary. The different training methods were fascinating to see.’

Coach Spackman is the head performance coach at The Royal School’s elite swimmers programme. He is a former swimmer for England and Great Britain having once ranked as one of the top 20 200m freestylers in the world.  He raced at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as a member of GBR’s men’s 4X200m freestyle relay.