So you’re about to swim at your first gala? You’ll have a ball! Here are a few things that it helps to know.
What to bring:
- one fresh costume and towel for each session you’re swimming in;
- a spare pair of goggles and swim cap;
- flip flops and a warm top/tracksuit bottoms to wear poolside;
- a packed lunch, a large bottle of water, and plenty of healthy snacks; and
- a book, a game, something to pass the time between races (ideally not electronics as poolside helpers can’t be responsible for looking after them).
Open galas and championships (like the County Championships) are usually split into sessions, 2 or 3 in a day, usually containing 8-10 different races. Each session has its own warm-up. You will need to sign in for each session you’re swimming in, usually at the entrance to the pool complex; sign-in has a closing time and this is often at the start of the warm-up. If you’re not signed in by the closing time, you’ll be taken off the list of swimmers. JFLs and SFLs don’t have sign-ins, but you need to make sure you get there in good time so that the team manager can confirm you’re there for the races you’re swimming.
Races are usually seeded by time so that the slowest swimmers, or those who haven’t done the race before so don’t have a time, swim in the first heats. The time that you use for your entry determines where in the heats you swim, no matter whether you’ve swum more quickly since; so every heat is a good race, even if it contains a range of ages. Prizes are usually awarded for each age, from the times swum over the heats – this is what ‘heat declared winners’ means. In the County Championships, there are also finals for each combined age group, in which the top 6 or 8 swimmers compete for the trophy.
A while before your heat, you will be called into the ‘whipping area’ where marshals will tick off your name and get you into the right order depending on what lane you’ll be swimming in.
The gala is overseen by officials, who all dress in white (and are known as ‘whites’). They timekeep, operate the automatic timekeeping system, and judge whether starts, turns and strokes are legal. You will usually find them at the ends of each lane, and by the side walking up and down. There is also at least one referee, and a starter. If you get disqualified because a stroke infringement, or an illegal start or turn is seen by one of the whites, you will be told what happened through a code printed by your result that explains the rule you broke.
Results tend to be printed out at the gala and stuck on the wall. Some galas now offer live results online too.
The main things to remember: swim fast, don’t get DQ’d. Have fun!