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Kent win first County Team Championships after last-race victory secures title

Kent won their first National County Team Championships title after a nail-biting race for the top spot which went down to the wire.

Victory in the final event of the competition ensured they finished top of Division One by the narrow margin of four points from second-placed Yorkshire.

Kent had held a slender lead throughout the competition but were pegged back by Yorkshire and the two counties were locked on 442 points with only two events remaining.

However, Kent sealed victory in the Mixed Open 300m Freestyle Relay – their fourth win of the afternoon – to take the top spot and spark wild celebrations.

They also finished second four times and third once to significantly better their previous best finish at the National County Team Championships of third in 2016 and 2019.

Northumberland & Durham were third on 422 points with defending champions Devon fourth with a total of 396.

Eva Okaro was influential for Kent, winning the Women’s 16-17 Years 100m Freestyle and also being part of two victorious relay teams.

She was alongside Caitlin Ebbage, Aaliyah Richards and Bella Cottrell as Kent won the Women’s 16-17 Years 200m Medley Relay.

And Okaro was also part of the Mixed Open 300m Freestyle Team which also included James Cleaver, Frederick Jones, Annie Sanders, Filip Grigoras and Madeleine Evans.

It was a gritty last leg from Evans, who was being closed down by Swim Wales East’s Harley James in the final 25m, but she just held on to touch home first by 0.60 seconds.

Marie Atkinson-Brian, Kent’s team manager, was delighted with the squad’s performance.

‘Never expected that’

She said: “This has been an incredible achievement. 

“I mean the event is so early in the season, a lot of our guys have been in, like others, three or four weeks and we really weren’t expecting this today.

“Everyone in every race exceeded their expectations and our expectations of them, and literally from start to finish, we were obviously leading right the way through and we just never expected that.

“To hold that and then come through at the end in that final relay was absolutely incredible.

“I’ve been involved with Kent swimming for about 35 years – firstly as a swimmer and now as team manager – and this is just an incredible achievement. And it is from the hard work that our coaches and our swimmers put in every day back home in Kent.

“This is the most exciting event that Swim England run in the entire year. The reason I became a team manager was because I didn’t actually get to swim this as a swimmer so I wanted to come back and be part of it.

“We try and do all we can to embrace the atmosphere. We are buying fancy dress for months before this event and really trying to embrace the atmosphere and add to the atmosphere and the experience.

“This is a unique environment for swimmers and something they will remember for the rest of their lives, not just during their swimming career.

“This is exactly what we needed post-Covid, just getting back in.There’s obviously a lot of competition between the teams but actually it was fantastic.

“It was really pleasant and everyone’s shaking each other’s hand at the end of it and just saying well done and that is just fantastic.

“We’re probably not going to get home much before midnight tonight. Our last drop off is right down the bottom of the country. So it’s going to be a long journey home but it will be a very happy and pleasant one.

“There will be lots of cheering, lots of chanting and lots of celebrating on the way back.”

Division One final standings

  • 1 Kent 469
  • 2 Yorkshire 465
  • 3 Northumberland & Durham 420
  • 4 Devon 396
  • 5 Surrey 391
  • 6 Scotland East 390
  • 7 Lancashire 385
  • 8 Scotland West 368
  • 9 Somerset 353
  • 10 Essex 342
  • 11 Middlesex 330
  • 12 Berkshire & South Buckinghamshire 304
  • 13 Worcestershire 296
  • 14 South Wales 293
  • 15 Nottinghamshire 260
  • 16 Suffolk 230
  • 17 South West Wales 222
  • 18 Oxfordshire & North Buckinghamshire 203
  • 19 Cambridgeshire 197
  • 20 Leicestershire 195