Inspirational Western Isles swimmer Kara Hanlon wins four gold medals at International Island Games in Gibraltar

Kara Hanlon has won 12 Island Games medals, eight of them gold

A Western Isles swimmer was described as an “inspiration” for all Hebridean athletes following a golden week at the NatWest International Island Games in Gibraltar.

Kara Hanlon has won four gold and a silver at the week-long showpiece, which finishes today (Friday 12th July).

And the 22-year old was not the only Western Isles athlete to celebrate a podium place in the shadow of the famous rock, as more joy followed in the pool and in the athletics stadium.

Isla Budge won bronze in the 400-metres freestyle event, while in Thursday’s triple jump final Mary Macleod won silver and Heather MacKinnon took bronze.

Eriskay jumper MacKinnon had won gold in the event in Gotland two years ago with a shorter jump than it took to win third this time around.

Hebridean triple jump medallists Mary Macleod (left) and Heather MacKinnon (right) with event winner Moa Orevik of Gotland

Hanlon’s week of glory began on Monday when she retained the 50 metres breaststroke title she won in Gotland in 2017. Her swim of  31.08 sealed victory ahead of Laura Kinley of the Isle of Man (31.33) and Shetland’s Jasmin Smith (32.29).

The swimmer smashed her own games record in the heats – her time of 31 seconds flat was .33 of a second quicker than the best she set in Jersey in 2015.

Hanlon clinched a gold – and another games record – in Tuesday night’s 200-metres breaststroke final when she swam 2:25.45 to win by more than seven seconds from the Isle of Man’s Kinley. Her 200-metres swim was three seconds quicker than the previous best, which she set in Jersey in 2015

On the same night Hanlon won a silver medal in the 200-metres individual medley, and then went on to complete a hat-trick of golds by winning Wednesday night’s 100-metres breaststroke final.

Once again, the Games record fell with an international-class time of 1:07.28 in what is considered Hanlon’s speciality event.

On Thursday night a fourth gold medal was added, when Hanlon won the 100-metres individual medley in a time of 1:03.37.

Swimming medal winners Isla Budge (left) and Kara Hanlon

Hanlon has now won 12 Island Games medals – eight of them gold.

She first competed as a 14-year old in the Isle of Wight in 2011, continuing her progression in Bermuda in 2013 before going on to win a gold and three silver medals in Jersey in 2015 and a further three golds in Gotland two years ago.

Having narrowly missed out on selection for the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast last year, Hanlon recently won a hat-trick of golds at the Scottish national championships and earlier in the year took a silver at the British championships in Glasgow.

Norrie Macdonald, chairman of the Western Isles Island Games committee, said the Island Games had helped propel Hanlon to an elite level of sport and she had become the standard bearer for the Hebridean team.

“Having achieved success in the past, there’s pressure on Kara to deliver but she always pulls through,” he said.

“She was fantastic. We took her to the Isle of Wight eight years ago as a 14-year old, where she was there for the experience and to get a taste of what the games were all about.

“She went again in Bermuda and missed out on a medal by her fingertips, but then returned to win in Jersey in 2015 and in Gotland two years ago. She’s now dominant in the pool and has gone on to compete at an elite level.”

Stornoway runner Connor Maclean was fifth in the 5,000 metres

Macdonald added: “It’s a smaller Western Isles team this year, and we don’t have the MacPhee sisters (Kerry and Kirsty) in the cycling so our medal haul will be lower than it was in Gotland (where the Western Isles won 14 medals).

“But we’re seeing personal bests and improvement all across the events.

“They’ve now got a measure of the standard, and hopefully they go home and are inspired to work hard to come back again and do better the next time.

“That’s what Kara Hanlon did, and we hope these games will set some other young athletes off on the same trajectory.”

It is the eighth time the Western Isles has competed at the biennial games, and a party of 34 Hebrideans are competing in five sports – Athletics; Swimming; Shooting; Cycling and Badminton.

Young badminton player Beth MacPhail

Around 2,500 participants, from 22 island regions are competing across 14 sports in Gibraltar. The peninsula is not an island in the geographic sense, but the British Overseas Territory has competed in the event for three decades.

Membership of the games is open to island areas with fewer than 125,000 residents.

Article by Keith MacKenzie

All photographs courtesy of Iain “GG” Campbell.