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by Mary Pohlmann

September 15, 2016

Thomas O. Maine

Long a swimmer, Tom Maine is still swimming strong at 90

In 2016, at the age of 90, Thomas O. Maine was selected as a member of the 2016 class of inductees into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will take place on September 23, 2016, in Atlanta, Ga., in conjunction with the 2016 United States Aquatic Sports XXXVII Convention.

From 2005 to 2016, Maine set 27 FINA Masters World Records, 14 long course and 13 short course in butterfly, breaststroke, and individual medley events. Maine set nine of those world records in 2015, after he turned 90 years old. 

Additionally, Maine has set 56 USMS records in since 2002 and still holds the USMS record in the 200 butterfly for 80-84 year olds in all three courses (25 yards, 25 meters, and 50 meters courses). He currently holds a total of 29 individual USMS records—three records in the 80-84 age group, nine records in the 85-89 age group, and 17 records in the 90-95 age group. He’s been ranked in the USMS Top 10 continuously for 20 years.

Early Swimming Success

Maine began swimming in 1935 when he was about 10 years old, taking lessons at the YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa. He participated in some state YMCA meets at an early age. During his years at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, his specialty stroke was the breaststroke. Back then, prior to the designation of butterfly as a separate stroke, an overwater arm recovery similar to today’s butterfly recovery was allowed in breaststroke. Maine was named to the high school All-American list for two years and worked as a lifeguard during the summers.

After graduating from high school in 1943, Maine joined the U.S. Navy and entered the Navy flight training program. He trained with the military base swim teams at the Naval Flight Training Center in Norman, Okla., and the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, where he swam breaststroke (with the overarm recovery) and the individual medley which was backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in that order.

In 1952, breaststroke was redefined, and butterfly became a separate stroke. In 1952 and 1953, the individual medley event and the medley relay event could include either three strokes (no butterfly) or all four strokes. By 1954, the individual medley officially included all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle), and the medley relay included butterfly as the third leg of the relay.

After World War II, Maine attended Iowa State University, was on the varsity swim team for all four years, and worked as a lifeguard. There, he swam the breaststroke leg (with overarm recovery) in the three-person medley relay and was co-captain of the Cyclones swim team earning recognition as Swimmer of the Week. On a recent visit to Iowa State University, Maine saw his name was misspelled on the recognition wall at the natatorium.

After graduating from Iowa State in 1952, Maine took a 35-year break from swimming. During this period, he got married, raised children, and worked at McDonnell-Douglas, an aerospace manufacturing corporation in St. Louis, Mo. His only swimming during that period took place in the lake during his visits to his mother in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Return to Swimming

Swimming again became an important part of Maine’s life after he moved to Carbondale, Ill., in 1987 when and his new wife, Shirley, gave him a pass to the Southern Illinois University Student Recreation Center. At first, it was just nice to be back in the water, but then Maine met Edward Shea, Carbondale’s accomplished backstroker, who encouraged him to attend the Senior Olympic swim meets. There, Maine met an outstanding swimmer in his own age group, Robert Blake from St. Louis, and the competition felt good. For the next 10 years, he occasionally competed in Senior Games swim meets.

Maine joined U.S. Masters Swimming in 1997 at the age of 71, representing Illinois Masters from 1997 through 2006 and more recently St. Louis Area Masters (SLAM). Currently, he trains with members of the Saluki Masters Swim Club workout group in Carbondale. He has also competed in national and international Masters meets, combining swimming with vacation time.

Every year since 1999, Maine has been listed as a USMS All-American, posting the fastest time of the year for his age group in a least one event. Through 2015 he achieved the fastest time in 159 events. Most consistently, he has achieved this honor for the 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley, considered by many swimmers to be the most grueling events at any age.

FINA World Records

Maine started setting FINA world records in the men’s 80-84 age group in 2005 for the 200 LCM butterfly and 400 LCM individual medley. In 2006, he set a world record in the Men 80-84 100 LCM butterfly and lowered his 200 LCM butterfly record. His first short course meters world record was the Men 80-84 200 SCM butterfly set in 2007.

After aging up to the 85-89 age group in 2010, Maine set four LCM world records in the 100 and 200 butterfly and 200 and 400 individual medley and five SCM world records in the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 200 and 400 individual medley, and the 200 breaststroke.  After entering the 90-94 age group in 2015, Maine has set LCM world records in the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 400 IM, and the 200 breaststroke as well as SCM world records in the 200 butterfly, 200 IM, and 400 IM.

As of May 2016, thirteen of Maine’s world records still stand. In addition to his individual world and national records, Maine has been a member of several record-setting relay teams, including the 800 LCM mixed free relay USMS national record in the 280-319 age-group set in 2009 with teammates Mary Pohlmann, Larry Good, and Teresa McDowell and the 4 x 200 SCM mixed free relay world record set in 2010.

Maine has won 15 FINA World Masters Championship titles: one in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002; two in Riccione, Italy in 2004; three in Stanford, Calif., in 2006; four in Göteborg, Sweden in 2010; and five in Montreal, Canada in 2014. He was named among Swimming World’s TOP 12 MASTERS SWIMMERS in 2010, 2015, and 2016, and has been featured in Chicago Athlete magazine and Sports Illustrated.