Monday, 29 September 2014

FINA World Masters Swimming Championships, Montreal 2014 - A personal perspective from Richard Jongens

From Left:  Steve Prescott,  Katherine Johnstone and Richard Jongens
About 6000 swimmers and 2000 water polo, divers, and synchronised-swimmers gathered in th FINA World Masters Championships. Of the 6000 swimmers, only three men (Richard Jongens, Steven Prescott, and Colin Feltoe), and four women (Linda Feltoe, Margaret Fairhall, Margaret Radford, Katherine Johnstone), made the long trip from New Zealand. We were definitely out-numbered by the Aussie participation. However, our claim to fame was that the oldest competitor present was Katherine Johnstone at 97. Katherine travelled all the way from Auckland to Canada with her two daughters for the competition. A brilliant effort to come so far, and the crowd loved her. She lapped up the attention by waving to the crowd as she walked to the other end of the pool for the 50 m freestyle. She even dive-started the race, whereas some of her younger counterparts in the 85-89 and 90-94 age group had to step in to the pool first for a wall-start. One of her best achievements was finishing the 400 m Freestyle in 15.43.16, which broke the existing world record (17.08.08), also set by her in Riccione, 2012. That’s a whole minute and 25 seconds faster! Steve Prescott and I congratulated her after her 50m swim. We were struck by her infectious enthusiasm and laughter. One other Kiwi was also present at Montréal: Roger Eagles, in his official capacity as a FINA Masters Committee member. He did a lot of handshaking but no swimming, but it was good to see a Kiwi helping the FINA organisation.

Main Venue at Parc Jean-Dapau.  The main competition pool is on the top left, and the warmup pool is in the middle  with the diving pool at the bottom right
My team mate, Steve Prescott, and I decided to go to the FINA world champs back in December 2013, and trained towards that goal for much of the first half of 2014. Our swims at the Long Course Nationals in Dunedin (May 2014) weren’t great, but this was no surprise given that we were in the middle of hard training, with no taper. Fortunately, we tapered nicely for Montréal, and arrived four days before competition to get over the jet lag. Swimming facilities at Montréal prior to competition were limited because the two 50 m pools and warm up pool at Park Jean-Drapeau (on two islands in the middle of the St Lawerence River) were being fully utilised by the water polo and synchronised swimming teams. We swam at the Claude-Robillard Pool (the 1976 Montréal Olympic pool), out in the suburbs but because this pool remained open to the public and all competitors it was more like a washing machine instead of organised lane training. On top of that, we couldn’t figure out why our 100 m freestyle sets were so slow until we realised that the bulkhead was set at 30 m distance instead of the usual 25 m!

Packed crowds at the main competition pool
Come the first day of competition, we started the day warming up in the warm-up pool at Park Jean-Drapeau, along with about 1000 other people! You can imagine the chaos. There were two 50 m, 10 lane, 2 m deep competition pools. One was used for the womens events and one was used for the mens events. For each day of competition (8 days in all), the women and men swapped pools. One of the competition pools was a temporary pool made by Mrytha, and this felt the fastest of the two. Because the two competition pools were separated by a good 15 minute walk, Steve and I never got to meet up with some of the women kiwis that were competing (sorry Margaret). We did, however, catch up for dinner with Colin and Linda Feltoe. Temperatures hovered around 28 to 30 degrees outside so we stayed in the shade until our events. The first day was the 800 m and because there were 60 heats for the women, the competition went well after 10 pm at night. Other days were fortunately not so late. 

The Temporary Pool at sunset during the first day of competition.  800m freestyle heats continued well into the evening.  Note the geodesic dome (now a biosphere) on the right which was constructed during the 1967 world Expo in Montreal

Both Steve and I were really happy with our results. I had heaps of competition in the 45-49 age group (up to 180 men in the 50 Freestyle event) which made my 65th placing in the 50 m not so bad. The best I did was 12th in the 800 m which confirms that I’m a better long distance swimmer than a sprinter. Steve Prescott, as always, dominated his age group (60-64), winning 3 golds and 2 silvers (200m breaststroke, 200 fly, 400 IM, 400 & 800 freestyle). It could be said that in terms of the World Masters Swimming, Steve is probably the fastest all-round swimmer in his age group. However, the surprise of the meet was that I went faster than him in the 400 m Freestyle in a time of 4.46.19 compared to his 4.48.80. This was the first time I had gone faster than him, but to Steve’s credit, he is 14 years older than me.
The results and times for all the swimmers, including our NZ swimmers, can be found at

Note that there are a lot of swimmers in the result lists that have a “NT” next to them. This is because they raced but failed to go faster than the qualifying time set for the event, and were therefore not given a time. A bit harsh I felt.

The 3km open water start for the 60 - 64 age gropu.  Steve Presescott is in there somewhere.  Note that some swimmers have  the full body swimsuits on (these are legal)
The 3 km open water swim was held at the 1976 Olympic rowing course, also on one of the islands in the St Lawerence River. Because it was on a rowing course, complete with buoys every 10 m, it was easy to follow with no real chop to contend with. One of the FINA rules that took us by surprise is that drafting is not allowed. We thought this would be hard to enforce but the referees (who were on several boats) would present a yellow flag (a warning) if they thought you were purposely drafting, and then a red flag (disqualification) if you continued to draft. Fortunately, Steve and I didn’t get a yellow flag, Steve getting gold in his age group having only passed the leader in the last 200 m, and I was 15th in my age group. Another FINA rule we were unaware of is that full body swim-suits that are sleeveless and without a zip on the back are perfectly legal in open water swims. We noted some swimmers that were slower in the pool, were slightly faster in the open water (relative to other swimmers) because of these suits.

The venue for open water swim was held in the rowing course (centre right) used for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The St Lawerence Sea Way is on the right, and the main river channel is on the left
Overall, the FINA world champs is a great event and I highly recommend it. It’s the only chance to swim with people who are seeded at about your speed that are also in your 5 year interval age group. Heats in most other Masters meets are just based on time alone, irrespective of sex or age, so a 50 year old male could be racing against a 25 year old female and so on. We met lots of people from many countries including such diverse places as Egypt and Costa Rica. We even met a Fiji Masters Swimmer. Although it appears very crowded at times, it’s a great event and something worth striving for if you want to achieve personal bests. 

A thought about the upcoming World Masters Games to be held in Auckland 2017: I’m not sure what venue will be used for the swimming but if its anything like Sydney 2009, there will be lots of people (1800 at Sydney), and everyone will want to warm up before their race. It is extremely important that the swimming venue has both a competition pool and a separate warm-up pool that can adequately take this number of swimmers. Providing a warm up time before competition begins at say 8 to 9 am is not sufficient when your race may be at 4 pm in the afternoon. You need a separate pool where you can warm up within an hour of your race.

By Richard Jongens

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