Riccione 2012, Swimming: A flowering of five-time champions


The Championships' biggest reception was reserved for swimming, where the entire Masters community - competitors, spectators and fans - cheered from the stands at the outdoor pool of the “Polisportiva Communale” in Riccione. It is a quarter past midnight. They are all waiting for the last heat, men's 50m butterfly, to start. Sergey Mukhin from Russia was the last champion of the day, winning the event in 25.09 (25-29 age group). And all together, they celebrated a great midnight show after all heats were held during a long, long day. The competition had started at 7:30 in the morning with the first heat for the men's 400m IM, Spain's Manuel Pinya touching first in 13:17.93 (85-89 age group).

Long days and sessions confirmed the ever-vibrant interest for Masters swimming all over the world. A total 77 afiliated member federations, from Andorra to Zimbabwe, were present in Riccione and close to 10'000 competitors in swimming only provided a total 28'878 individual and 1556 relay splashes at the event - an absolute record in FINA's history. Up to now, the 2000 edition in Munich, Germany, held the record of entries (17'144, individual and relays together). “We never expected such a great number of participants. We are very surprised and overwhelmed by this very great interest”, said Paolo Barelli, FINA Bureau Honorary Secretary and President of Italian Swimming Federation. “It shows also the great attraction of Riccione and the Adriatic Sea”, he added.

In the two 50m pools where swimming events took place, no less than 27 Masters World records were set. One of them was established by Lorenzo Marugo from Italy (60-64 age group), who touched home in 2:45.67, only 4/100 seconds ahead of USA's Timothy Shead, both setting marks well below the previous World record (2:50.44). It was one of the four pool titles for Lorenzo Marugo, who is not only a Masters swimmer but also the doctor of Italy's national swimming team. “Sometimes, I train with our national women's team, but they are much faster than me”, he said with a smile. Marugo also claimed a gold medal in the open water event.   

The oldest competitors collecting five victories each come from all corners of the world, far away from Riccione and Italy. Kath Johnstone from New Zealand, born in 1917, picked up five gold medals in the 95-99 age group. “I started swimming when I Was four years old and never stopped", she said. “Swimming is my passion and that is why I'm here”, she added. It was her fifth participation at a FINA World Masters Championship. In the men's events, Jack Matheson from Australia was the superstar in the 95-99 age group, also walking away with five gold medals: “It's better to be here, than at home watching TV”.


Another remarkable Masters swimmer is Nicolas Granger from France, who snatched five titles in the 45-49 age group (with World records in 200m and 400m IM). The French suffered a cancer twice, in 1996 and 2003 but his passion for swimming never faded. “I started swimming in the age of six and never stopped, except when undergoing treatments”, he said. He now feels well and in good health. “I don't have to prove anything to anyone, but if my story can help someone, I'm glad to tell it.”

Also five-time Masters World champions, Laura Val, the “US-Girl”, who etched her name in Master swimming history in January 2011 when she established six Masters World records in a single 1500m event - at every split time - in the 60-64 age group. Other five-time champions included Jane Asher, the “Grand Swimming Lady” from Great Britain, in the 80-84 age group and German Christel Schulz in the 70-74 age group, who won gold medals for the fifth straight FINA World Masters meet, her first success taking place in Stanford (USA) in 2006. Also a well-known figure in the world of Masters swimming is five-time gold-medallist in Riccione Karlyn Pipes-Neilson from Hawaii (USA), who competed in the 50-54 age group for a French club in Paris. All of them set new Masters World records in their respective age category. 

Many competitors took part in both pool and open water swimming, but Canadian-born Bonnie Spivey combined the two with synchronised swimming, with the club "Unsyncables" of la Mirada in the USA. She got a little nervous when her technical routine in solo (age group 50-59) and her heat in the 400m IM (age group 50-54) were scheduled around the same time but she managed it well, running from the swimming call room to the synchronised swimming pool, performing her routine and running back to her starting block. She claimed silver in synchronised swimming with 130.438 points.


Germany's Joachim Hintze also claimed medals in three disciplines. He started the Championships in the water polo team of SV Cannstatt in the 65+ age group to defend their title from Boras in Sweden two years ago. His next podium was after the 800m freestyle in the 70-74 age group, winning the event in 11:39.81. Gold medal no.3 came after he finished the race in the Adriatic Sea with a time of 34:52.2. His water polo teammate Wolfgang Gaetcke took out the men's 50m breaststroke (36.46) in the 65-69 age group.

Former World champion Oleg Lisogor from Ukraine - he took out the men's 50m breaststroke at the 2001 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan and 2007 Worlds in Melbourne, Australia, among others - ventured into Masters to collect more awards. In Riccione, he swam the 50m breaststroke in 28.8 (30-34 age group). “I'm here with a great team from our club and we like to have fun and compete also a little bit”, he said. Together with him competed Sergey Breus, Vyacheslav Shyrshov or Svitlana Bondarenko, all great swimmers.

The first and only gold medallist at an Olympic Games for Costa Rica - this was at Atlanta in 1996 in the 200m freestyle - travelled with her young daughter Cecilia to Riccione. "I have always loved swimming, but Masters is different”, she said. “When I see all these competitors older than 80 or 90 years, I'm very proud to be a swimmer”, she added.

Three-time Olympic champion (1976, Montreal) Jim Montgomery, the first to swim the 100m freestyle under 50 seconds, also joined the Masters celebration. He has been competing in World Masters since 1986 in Tokyo. “I really like to race and I train twice a week”, he said. Montgomery praised the organisation of the championships: “All involved, especially the volunteers made a great job and I'd like to say thank you very much”.

Oleg Lisogor from Ukraine