Montreal 2014: 1996 Olympic champion Claudia Poll still looking strong

Masters

Claudia Poll after her 100m free race, received by her fan club - credit: Delphine Schmutz/FINACosta Rican swimmer Claudia Poll is one of the few Olympic champions to have made the trip to Montreal for the 15th FINA World Masters Championships. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Poll won the country's only gold medal, in the 200m freestyle. Two years later in Perth, she was crowned World champion in the same event. She has tallied a total three Olympic and four World championships medals.

At 42, the standout, 1m91-tall swimmer is still an ever-looming threat in the distance freestyle and IM events. The Olympian and multiple national record holder is attending her third straight Masters Worlds. In Gothenburg, Sweden in 2010, she finished first in the 200m IM and second in the 200m freestyle, and picked up another silver in the 200m IM in Riccione, Italy in 2012.


On Monday August 4, Poll finished second in the 100m freestyle, touching the wall in 1:00.84. As soon as she got out of the water, coach Francisco Rivas, friends and fellow swimmers from her club, the 70-member El Milenio in San Jose, surrounded her and congratulated her on the good swim.

Poll said, all smiles: "I hadn't swum the 100m free in a while."


Train hard and have fun

Coach Rivas has trained Poll since she was seven years old, the very age her little girl Cecilia will turn this Friday August 8. "My father died when I was 10. Since then, Fernando [Rivas] has been my coach, my dad, my friend. He is a great part of my success in swimming and motivation to keep going."


Train hard and have fun, says Olympic champion Claudia Poll (CRC) - credit: Delphine Schmutz/FINA
Train hard and have fun, says Olympic champion Claudia Poll (CRC) - credit: Delphine Schmutz/FINA

Poll's life in and out swimming has been like a roller-coaster. After rising to fame in 1996 and becoming the inspiration of an entire country and region - she was the only Olympic champion in Central America until long jump athlete Irving Saladino offered Panama the gold at the 2008 Beijing Games -, Poll was suspended in June 2002 after testing positive for norandrosterone, a metabolite of the banned steroid nandrolone, in out-of-competition testing in February 2002. FINA later reduced her ban to two years and Poll was eligible to compete at the 2004 Athens Games.

"The other day, a friend reminded me that it's been 18 years since I won this medal [Olympic gold]. It's nice to be here and still loving the sport."

Poll has found much success both in elite swimming and at Masters level. "I don't compare times because it would be like torturing myself. To swim these times at 42, to see that I can still do it, it's great, but you need to train hard."  

"I train four to five times a week, I like to compete. I swam the day my daughter was born," Poll continued.

"To have been for so long in the sport, I mean, I still swim the 200m IM, you need to train hard but also to have fun."

In this respect, Cecilia, her seven-year-old girl, seems to already know what swimming is all about. One day, she said to her mother: "I'd rather see you swim than go to Disneyland."

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