The McCallum family always seem to have a lot to celebrate in Cayman Islands sporting circles as they are often on the podium either individually or as a family team. Dad Tom is a keen cyclist, mum Pat runs superbly and the three boys Alex, Iain and Nicholas seem to do just about everything.
The latest McCallum triumph came in the Pirates Week 5k sea swim on Saturday when Alex had the satisfaction of beating London Olympics gold medallist Oussama Mellouli by the width of a snapper. It was actually a three-way photo-finish as Ashley Twichell was fractionally behind them.
Alex McCallum, 18, won in 1 hour, 2.31 seconds, with Mellouli a tenth of a second behind and Twichell a tenth slower. All three stopped a few yards short of the official finish thinking it was over and had to scramble the last few yards to actually cross the line. McCallum reacted fastest.
Fourth was one of Cayman’s favourite visitors Lexie Kelly (1:05:44) who has admirably supported the Flowers Sea Swim in the past.
Iain McCallum, Alex’s younger brother, was fifth with Danielle Boothe, sixth, the first local female to finish at the Caribbean Club, outside Luca’s restaurant.
Special Olympics star Andrew Smilley was seventh, Theana Hay eighth, then came Catriona Macrae and triathlon champ Marius Acker, in his first ever 5k swim, was a satisfying tenth.
Recently appointed Cayman Islands swimming technical director Ian Armiger must have been impressed with what he saw.
To have Mellouli’s scalp on McCallum slate is a huge deal. The Tunisian based in the United States is a three-time Olympic medallist and an African record holder who trains with the University of Southern California Trojans where he went to school and swam at collegiate level.
Mellouli was the 1500 metres freestyle world champion at the 2009 World Aquatics Championships and the 1500m freestyle gold medallist at the 2008 Olympics, the bronze medallist in the 1500m freestyle at the 2012 Olympics and he won gold in the 10k marathon swim at the London Games.
The 32nd annual Pirates Week 5K swim had the Flowers Group as its main sponsor. Poppa Frank braved the arduous course despite recent health concerns with daughter Dara Flowers-Burke there for support, as always. Frank finished in a respectable 1:49:48 as did another over-60, Victor Thompson (1:43:38).
It is Cayman’s oldest swimming tradition and 47 intrepid swimmers set out from West Bay Public Beach at 8am. All but one finished. Coral Tomascik has been bugged with a shoulder injury for weeks and she pulled out.
Recent world renowned swimmers to grace the Seven Mile Beach include Eva Fabian, Alex Meyer, Olympic superstar Ryan Lochte, BJ Bedford, Neil Walker, Ian Crocker, Kristi Kowal and Cayman’s own Brett and Shaune Fraser.
The top three male and female finishers received Pirate’s Week plaques. There were other prizes too.
Other sponsors included Davenport Development, Pirates Week, Cayman’s National Festival and the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association.
Mellouli, 26, was pretty laid back about this result. “It was cool, this was my first swim since the Olympics,” he said. “It was a kind of reality check for me, I haven’t been training that much.
“It was cool to get in the warm water, nice weather, it was fun. I think I lost it in the last five metres. Yes, Alex has bragging rights for beating the Olympic champion.
“I basically came here to help out the Flowers Group. It was my first opportunity to visit the Cayman Islands, hang out and enjoy Pirates Week. We’re going to head up to Stingray City today and play it by ear.”
American Twichell, 23, was here for the first time too. “I love it,” she said. “I arrived on Thursday night and yesterday went for a long swim. The beach is absolutely beautiful and the people are so nice and welcoming. It’s been great so far.”
California-based Twichell won bronze in the open water world championships last year in Shanghai and gold in the team pursuit 5k and hopes to compete at the world championships in Barcelona next year.
Kelly said: “This is my fourth or fifth time and every time is just as good. In this race I was with Ous and Ashley for about two miles on their feet getting a nice draft, but then they picked up the pace a little and I couldn’t hang so I was swimming by myself for the rest of the way, but it was absolutely beautiful. The Flowers family are looking after me, as always. Dara and Frank are amazing.”
Alex McCallum was ecstatic about beating an Olympic champ. “It feels really good and hopefully I can go on to bigger things,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll be the Olympic champ too.
“It was kind of smooth at the beginning but as we went on the pace kind of picked up towards a sprint at the end but once you get to the end of any race anyone can win it so that was my plan all the time. “I stopped too because I couldn’t see the finish and I was sort of keeping up with him until I could see the finish line and just burst for the line and it worked in the end.”
An accomplished triathlete already, McCallum could turn into a world class competitor in that too if he puts his mind to it. “I did well in the triathlon last year without any training on the bike or running.
“The funny thing is that I don’t really train freestyle. I mainly train in backstroke, so to have this is really a surprise for me.”
McCallum heads for the University of Loughborough in the United Kingdom next year, where coach Armiger used to work.
McCallum has a scholarship from Ernst & Young and will be interning there for the next year before heading to Loughborough for his degree and will then work with the financial company for three years. His last year in university coincides with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and he hopes to be competing alongside the Frasers in those Games.