Watch: Scottish triathlete who has been training in this paddling pool during lockdown

A 16-year-old junior triathlete is hoping to gain access to a professional-sized pool ahead of a major competition in May after training in a giant paddling pool during lockdown “has not been ideal.”

Under current restrictions in Scotland, only elite sports players are allowed to use swimming facilities in leisure centres for training purposes.

Struan Bennet, who came ninth in the British Championships for Triathlons for his age group in 2019, missed out on competing to qualify as an elite athlete last year due to Covid.

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The year before that, he was considered too young.

Struan Bennet training in a giant paddling pool during lockdown as leisure centres across the country have been forced to close due to the pandemic picture: supplied

The teenager has just received confirmation about a selection race that is going ahead in Llanelli, Wales, in May for the junior ETU European Triathlon championships which takes place in Austria in June this year which he said “I cannot miss.”

If he beats any of the Scots his age entering the qualifying race, he said he hopes the competition will see him qualify as an elite athlete.

But because he lacks the elite status, he has been denied entry to his nearest leisure centre in Stirling to train and, as a result, has been confined to his lockdown purchase: a giant paddling pool.

"The 12ft round pool in the garden is better than the nearby loch at the moment,” Struan said, “but it has not been ideal.”

Struan Bennet, 16, has been competing in triathlon competitions since 2011 picture: supplied

Loch Leven, near the Bennet’s home in Milnathort, is currently about 4C – a temperature that the young athlete said he can only swim in for about ten minutes at a time. The giant paddling pool’s temperature is not much better.

"I am used to swimming for about ten hours a week pre-Covid,” he said.

“But being winter, I can only do short stints in the pool and the loch at the moment because it’s so cold.”

He’s even tried warming his wetsuit by filling it with hand warmers and pouring boiling water into it before a dip – but the heat doesn’t last long.

The triathlete, who came 15th in the British Open Water Championships in his age group in 2019, uses resistance bands to hold him in the centre of the paddling pool as he swims lengths while suspended in the water.

The DIY set up however impacts his technique, he said, which he has been mastering for years.

"I am worried it will just feel so different being in a big pool again after training in this and that I won’t perform as well as I know I can.

"It’s why I need to get into a professional pool as soon as possible.”

The Kinross High School pupil was able to return to the public swimming pools for a short period in the summer, but his hours of enjoyment in the water were cut short as the country plunged into a second, and subsequently a third lockdown, shutting all leisure centres a second time.

His mother, Lynne Bennet, said she is in touch with Triathlon Scotland in the hope that it will support Struan and allow him to gain access to pools where elite swimmers are training ahead of the big race in May.

"He is on the cusp of being an elite athlete which is why it’s just so tough for him,” she said.

"He’s been amazing at keeping up his training in the pool in the garden, it’s very impressive, but it doesn’t quite cut it for him.

"I am worried it will be dangerous for him to enter the race in May without having trained in a professional pool for months. From what I understand triathlete’s should really have six weeks of proper training before a race.”

Mrs Bennet said while the family is trying everything they can to get Struan access to a leisure centre, they have also turned to the community for help.

"So that he can stay in the garden pool for longer we’ve been asking neighbours’ advice on how to heat it,” she said.

"We have also asked if people in the area have a pool which Struan can use – provided it’s safe of course – because the lochs really are too cold to stay in for any length of time."

A spokesman from Triathlon Scotland said: “There have been different approaches to the Covid pandemic between the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, which also apply to elite sport performance exemptions.

"Performance exemptions do not currently cover a number of athletes who are of a similar level to Struan and therefore Struan is not an isolated case.

"Triathlon Scotland has been and will continue to review the elite sport performance exemptions in conjunction with sportscotland, especially as restrictions start to ease in Scotland.

"Performance exemptions will be considered alongside the availability of facilities to look at both eligibility of athletes, capacity of venues and their return to competition options."

He said the group is working closely with British Triathlon to minimise the risks for athletes based in Scotland training for the Olympics and Paralympics and sportscotland to ensure where possible parity across sports.

He added: “In Scotland, pool access for triathletes is dependent on Triathlon Scotland having a Performance Exemption to use the pool with an agreed number and standard of athlete.

"The numbers are restricted to ensure if one person tested positive then no one else would be stopped from training through the Track and Trace system.

“There are also very few pools currently open and those that are, are on restricted hours. This further reduces the options for sessions. Triathlon Scotland will be working with athletes to put in a planned return to competition based on their current age and stage."

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