MCAS IWAKUNI, Iwakuni, Japan -- A 15 Marine swim team competed in the annual Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Shinzen Swim Meet at the JMSDF pool Friday.
The American team competed against more than 300 JMSDF competitors and placed in three of the 20 events they participated in, taking home a gold and two silver medals. Heath McCleary placed first in the 29-year-old and below men's 50-meter free style swim, and David Fulton placed second in the more than 30-year-old age group.
In the men's 100-meter free style swim, Thomas West placed second for the 29-year old and below age group.
This is the second year Americans have been asked to participate in the competition by JMSDF. Last year the team only had six members, but has more than doubled since then.
"This is my second swim meet since coming to Iwakuni," West said, a native of Danville, Ill. "I've never really won anything before and I was happy to come back with a medal."
Although the JMSDF had numbers in their favor, the American team competed well. Aside from the three who took home medals, the other 12 swam hard against the 8 competitors in each of their events.
Some of the events included the 50, 100 and 500 meter swims followed by the unique soccer ball relay, kickboard relay and four man linked relay where swimmers swam together holding onto the swimmers shoulders in front of them.
"The competition was very tough. The Japanese are great swimmers so it ads to the competition," said swim team head coach McCleary.
Last year the Americans didn't know what to expect, but this year they knew they were in for some tough competition.
McClary, and Orlando, Fla. native, has been in competitive events since he was 8 years old and was nominated the head coach by the team. The level of experience in the team McClary coaced varied from advanced to beginner. Some have been training on a regular basis and others were asked to swim for the first time competitively the morning of the event.
The events were the same last year, but having American participants makes it a little different for the Japanese competitors.
"I am having a very good time because there are so many Americans here," said Toshiyuki Machijima, JMSDF pilot. "It's a very good opportunity to make friends."
"The Japanese have a large number of swimmers, but our swimmers equal them in quality," said Sean Kim Han, aquatic director and native of Honolulu, Hawaii. "Swimming is a very popular sport in Japan used to provide friendly competition."
The intent of the swim meet was not to walk away with a big prize, but to have fun and stay in shape Kim Han said.
During the closing ceremony the Americans were thanked for participating and asked to return to compete in next years swim meet.
"It was a good experience," McClary said. "JMSDF really put it on at the championship level."