Discover Masters World: Jim Montgomery (USA)


Jim Montgomery (USA) - credit: Sarah ChiarelloThose who have had the good luck one day to meet Jim Montgomery certainly remember how genuine, kind and unassuming this great man is. The American is in Gothenburg (SWE) for the FINA Masters World Championships where he shares his thoughts about his incredible career, his new passions and why, at 55, he still swims. It is hard to know where to start when recalling the accomplishments of the legendary freestyle swimmer, who was born in 1955 in Madison, Wis. (USA).

The sprinter years

Jim Montgomery etched his name into the history books when he was the first man to swim the 100m freestyle under the 50-second barrier in a World record time (49.99) at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal (CAN). He began an unstoppable reign over the freestyle events, also winning gold in 4x100m medley and 4x200m freestyle, and a bronze in the 200m freestyle.

He crowned a career plenty of other successes, taking part in three FINA World Aquatics Championships. In 1973 in Belgrade (YUG), Montgomery won a record five gold medals at the first World Championships (100m, 200m, 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x100m medley), establishing World Record times in all events. Back in 1975 in Cali (COL), he added three more medals to his incredible roll of honour (gold in two relays and bronze in 100m). Three years later in Berlin (West Germany), he bagged two gold medals (two relays) and a silver medal (100m).

“And then I called it quit,” he says.

Montgomery came back in 1981 to swim in Masters. He went to the first FINA Masters World Championships in Tokyo (JPN) in 1986. He had a full Masters career, including Munich (GER) in 2000, Christchurch (NZL) in 2002, Stanford (USA) in 2006, Perth (AUS) in 2008 and Gothenburg (SWE) this year.

After Christchurch (2002), he admits his motives for swimming at Masters became less performance-orientated: “I did it from 1986 through 2002 and that turns around 15 years. I really trained hard for the competitions and set records and then, my body was breaking down and I didn’t have the passion to keep that training going.”

Second life with Masters

Through the years, coming to Masters has become a way to meet with friends from the swimming community: “It has become more of a social climate, the older you get,” he reveals.

Reflecting on why Masters may be interesting for other swimmers, he says: “I think it is something they can point towards, first of course for the competition to see how well they do but I think it just gets them fitness-wise to train more consistently. But for a lot of them, it would probably be fitness first, social second and maybe competition third.” Montgomery’s reason is quite different: “I do it because of the travel; I love to travel.”

It is also a good memory that brought him back to Sweden: “I spent one day in Stockholm 30 years ago and always wanted to come back and really see Stockholm.”

Training smarter

Training, like motivation, has also evolved with time: “I train completely different; now it’s more to stay in shape. Sometimes I actually do more cycling than I do swimming. I really enjoy the cycling a lot so I had to change my swimming and my physical fitness; my shoulders are kind of weary now from many years of competitive swimming so I just have to train more intelligently and not push my body into injury.”

Does age restrict training? “No,” he believes “you just have to train smarter and that’s why I don’t train high intensity in the pool. I’d rather be out on my bike and doing some dry-land exercises and stretching.”

Today, planning the training has become more of an issue than a simple task: “It’s hard because of the work schedule and family. I’ve got five kids, aged between 17 and 30.”

To the open water

Gradually over time, Montgomery switched the short distances for the long ones. After so many years spent in the pool, he eventually took it to the open waters: “I swim very few pool competitions; I swim more open water swims,” he says. “Open water swimming is my passion since probably the mid-90s; for the last 15 years, I train more and enjoy the open water competitions,” he confides.

Happily for him, training for open water swims is less intense: “I don’t have to train for starts and turns, sprints or anything,” he says.

Montgomery swam a few open water swims when he was young but it has now become a prominent aspect of his life as a Masters swimmer: “I started taking trips to Hawaii every year to do the Maui Channel Swim and the Waikiki Roughwater Ocean swim so that’s how I got started and I started swimming more of them in the mid-90s.”

Montgomery is the owner and founder of the Dallas Aquatic Masters club, which has about 600 members. Next year, he will take a group to Greece and swim to the Greek islands: “I kind of make a trip into a leisure swim,” he jokes.

With the many waterways to explore around the globe, Montgomery can be but happy about the great swims that await him.