Sarah Chiarello, FINA Communications Department

Ms. Mieko Nagaoka was born in 1914. She lives alone in the South of Japan and started swimming at 80 years old to recover from a knee injury. Her story teaches us a simple but often overlooked lesson: it is never too late to start something and make great accomplishements.In the beginning, Ms. Nagaoka didn’t know how to swim. She used to come to the swimming pool to do exercises for her knee. At 82, she started to learn and swim on her own. And because she performs in a Noh – Japanese traditional dancing dramas – this was also an incentive to learn how to swim so that she would keep in shape for the plays.

Now aged 96 years old, she is Japan’s oldest swimmer and comes for the third time to compete at the FINA Masters World Championships. When she was 84 years old, Ms. Nagaoka started Masters swimming in Japan. At 88, she makes her first appearance at the Masters Worlds in 2002 in Christchurch (NZL) and takes the bronze in the 50m backstroke. She is back for more in 2004 in Riccione (ITA) where she wins three silver medals (50m, 100m and 200m backstroke).

She achieves national recognition in Japan when at 90 she establishes a national record in her pet event, the 800m freestyle. Fresh from her success, she starts training with a coach, takes private swimming lessons, and aims to improve her record-breaking performance.

Her endeavour is worthwhile since at 95, she brings it to a whole new level, establishing her first Masters World Record in the 50m backstroke. She currently holds 15 World Records (100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle, 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke in both long and short course, as well as 50m breaststroke in short course, which she established in July at the Japan Masters).

Ms. Nagaoka is happy to train four times a week for two hours. She actually likes the longer distance because she swims slowly and is able to keep her own pace.

In Ms. Nagaoka’s family, swimming transcends every generation, from her son to grandchildren, and she strongly encourages other swimmers to keep swimming as long as possible. In the end, Ms. Nagaoka’s story shows that age is just a number and it is sure that her profound passion for swimming is not going to fade any soon.