Help us to shape the future values and vision of Swim England at our roadshows

Andrew Czyzewski blogs about taking inspiration from veteran Olympic swimmers

Andrew Czyzewski is a veteran Masters swimmer of 32 years, and swims for Borough of Kirklees, Camden Swiss Cottage and Winchester City Penguins. In this blog, he looks at how Masters can take inspiration from veteran swimmers competing at the upcoming Olympic Games.

Veteran Olympians in Rio

With the Rio Olympic Games just weeks away, excitement in the swimming world is palpable and building.

Can Michael Phelps make it four golds in a row in the 100 Fly or 200 IM? What’s the limit for freestyle teenage sensation Katie Ledecky? Will Adam Peaty hold his nerve and bring it home for GB in the 100 Breast? Can fellow world champion and countryman James Guy outfox his rivals in the 200 Free as he did so masterfully at Kazan last year?

What I will find just as interesting though, is how the ‘veterans’ perform overall at these games. Of course veteran is a relative term, but there has been a noticeable trend in recent years for certain athletes maintaining world-class form into their early- to mid-thirties, even beyond.

Rio has a noticeable number of veteran stars with genuine medal chances including Michael Phelps (31), Ryan Lochte (32 in August), Kirsty Coventry (32), Oussama Mellouli (32), Therese Alshammar (39 in August and a mum to boot), László Cseh (30), Federica Pellegrini (only 28 in August but setting PBs 12 years on from her Olympic debut at 16 in Athens).

Then in Olympics within recent memory, there’s our own Mark Foster of Team GB who made Beijing 2008 aged 38 − as did mum at the time Dara Torres at 40 (bagging three silver medals in the process).

Ervin’s comeback for the US team

Possibly my favourite veteran, though, is Anthony Ervin (35) who just made the fiercely competitive US team in the fiercely competitive 50 Free.

Ervin’s tale is a particularly interesting one. He won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, double-gold at the 2001 World Championships …. and then just quit aged 22.

This highly intelligent athlete apparently just found the sport and Olympic glory all too narcissistic. He went travelling, drank and smoked a bit by all accounts, and even sold his Olympic medal in 2004 to raise money for the Asian Tsunami relief.

He then staged a rare successful comeback to make the US team for London 2012, making the final. He’s had a mixed time of it since 2012, but yet again has stepped up in 2016 for Olympic year.

Anyway, I appreciate all this talk of thirty-something veterans will be making some readers feel a little long in the tooth. But I think all age groups can draw inspiration from these athletes. It wasn’t so long ago that a swimmer’s career was thought to be effectively over by 25 at the very oldest and younger still for women.

If they can do it, who’s to say Masters can’t surprise themselves occasionally by posting times they did a decade ago?

What lessons can we draw?

Are there any specific lessons can we draw from this trend though?

I’ve noticed in interviews with many of these athletes they emphasise a few common themes. There’s the greater need for rest and recovery. It may seem obvious to many, but older bodies take longer to repair.

Also they talk about more focused training and making the yards count. Even though we do less in Masters, we all know the tendency to just slip into autopilot when the coach is asking for speed variations.

Many of them also talk about the need for cross-training (see Lochte’s tire flipping) which many Masters do already as triathletes.

And lastly there’s good diet. Ervin turned away from booze. That might be a stretch for any Masters who train so they can indulge. But everything in moderation I guess. I’ll be enjoying these Olympics with a cold … er … soft drink in hand. Honest.