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by P H Mullen

May 7, 2002

Technique coach who works hard herself

Who says you can't look forward to turning 40? Beth Baker of Virginia Masters burst into the 40-44 age group last year and promptly took it over, finishing 2001 ranked number one domestically in an incredible 24 events.

In short course yards, Baker won seven national titles while setting five national records (including records in all three butterfly events). In short course meters, she captured seven titles, set five national records and four world records. And in long course, she did even better, winning eight titles and setting five world and national records.

The butterfly and backstroke specialist, who swam collegiately at the University of Virginia, trains in suburban Washington, D.C., under renowned Masters and Curl-Burke coach John J Flanagan.

In preparation for "aging-up" into a new age group, Baker put in 35,000 yards per week swimming with Flanagan's age group team instead of his Masters group. That meant she daily raced—and often beat—some of the area's best youth swimmers. It was a unique situation, where she served as a Curl-Burke assistant coach specializing in technique (she is also the technique coach at American University and teaches swimming lessons), partially trading her expertise for pool time.

As a technique coach, she's a firm believer in proper stroke mechanics: "Get your technique down. That's the number one priority. If you have technique, the speed will come."

In addition to Masters competitions, Baker races at USA swimming meets and occasionally posts faster times there. (This is significant because, in several cases, she has swum markedly faster than her new Masters world records. But the times did not count as records because they didn't occur in Masters-sanctioned meets.)

Baker says her success in age group meets is partially due to less pressure, but partly because as a technique coach, she knows her athletes are "standing on deck and watching every stroke to make sure I'm doing things right." At these competitions, Baker has two ways to judge whether a swim was good or not: by her time and by the number of swimmers who afterward ask her for lessons.

published in Swim magazine, May-June 2002