Montreal 2014: Katherine Johnstone, 97 (NZL): "I don't know how to stop!"
"That was a long swim!" said 97-year-old Katherine Johnstone of New Zealand after clocking 7:59.19 in the 200m freestyle. The brave lady was tired but all smiles: she had just become the one and only FINA World Masters champion in the 95-99 category!
Unrivalled in Montreal, Johnstone celebrated the new accolade in the 50m, 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle, and 50m breaststroke. Two years ago in Riccione, Italy, Johnstone also swam the 800m freestyle but was not allowed this time. Back home, she still holds the national record in the 1500m freestyle.
Johnstone, the oldest swimmer to compete at this 15th Masters Worlds edition, soon created a sensation at the Parc Jean-Drapeau pool: after each of her swims, fellow swimmers from all over the world, in awe of such determination, would congratulate her and ask for a picture with her. Truly an inspiration for all, Johnstone played along, amused by her sudden popularity.
"I'm so happy to be in the sport of swimming, I don't know how to stop," she said with a laugh.
"I was ready to fly from hometown Auckland to come here. Swimming keeps me young and healthy!"
Johnstone paused for a few seconds, and said, weighing her words: "Underneath the wall of my body, I feel thrilled to help youngsters and adults to swim or keep on swimming."
Johnstone was four when she first dipped a toe in a swimming pool and was very competitive from an early age. Aside from swimming, she played various sports like field hockey and tennis.
Katherine Johnstone (NZL) after her 200m freestyle effort - credit: Delphine Schmutz/FINA
Johnstone first took part in a FINA World Masters meet in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. She then travelled to Perth, Australia in 2008 and to Riccione, Italy in 2012.
"Here, I see old friends that I met at previous Masters Worlds, it's fantastic," she said.
Johnstone trains twice a week at Auckland's North Shore Masters club. "My coach has become my best friend," she said.
"Until my body allows me to, I'll keep going."