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by Jeff Commings

September 1, 2016

World Records Tumble in Pacific Northwest

Dozens of FINA Masters World Records fell at the USMS Summer National Championship

Despite a couple days of oppressive heat at the outdoor Mt. Hood Community College pool in Gresham, Ore., this year’s U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship was one of the best in many years. Thirteen athletes broke 35 individual world records, with several others leaving the meet with new national marks. And, befitting an Olympic year, the roster was filled with Olympians who were either continuing their successes in the pool or re-entering the sport after a few years away.

Rick Colella, a bronze medalist in the 200 breaststroke at the 1976 Olympics, was one of the most successful athletes at Masters nationals with five world records in five swims in the 65-69 age group. In his pet event, the 200 breast, the 65-year-old from Puget Sound Masters in neighboring Washington state clocked a 2:41.54 to break his own world record of 2:47.71 set in early July.

Colella pulled off a record-setting double on the third day of the meet, starting with a 33.30 in the 50 breast that erased the 34.61 world record of Japan’s Osamu Maeda from 2009. Later in the session, he posted a 2:25.22 in the 200 IM, breaking his own month-old record of 2:29.52 that had smashed the previous mark by 10 seconds.

Colella’s stellar meet began with the 400 IM, where his 5:14.48 took down his newly-minted world record of 5:20.00. Notably, the previous mark in the 65-69 age group was 5:50.98. Colella also made a dent in the record books in the 100 breast with a 1:15.94, dipping under his own record of 1:16.30.

A Love for Competition

Laura Val never made it to the Olympics, but her career as a Masters swimmer has made her the stuff of legends. The International Swimming Hall of Fame inductee rolled through the record books in the 65-69 age group at Summer Nationals with five new marks, all of which were broken by about five seconds per 100 meters. Perhaps her most astounding race was the 100 butterfly, where her 1:13.70 was only 1.64 seconds slower than her world record in the 60-64 age group from 2011 and 6.39 seconds better than Charlotte Davis’ world record in the 65-69 age bracket.

Val agreed that her 100 fly was her top swim, noting that “it was one of those races where I wasn’t breathing hard (at the end), and it felt like it was easy.”

Although you might think that setting more than 100 world records would make Val jaded, the 65-year-old Tamalpais Aquatic Masters star says she gets motivated to race hard to get a reward for the hard work she puts in the pool. “I love to compete,” she says. “At this point, it’s just what I do.”

Val says she got some extra motivation in Oregon from watching the Olympics just two weeks earlier, though she says “you watch these guys on TV and you try to do six dolphin kicks off the wall, and it’s doesn’t work as well for you. But, you pick up little things here and there.”

Also swimming well in Oregon was Rose Bowl Masters’ Mike Freshley, who set two world records. Freshley, who was six-for-six in short course yards USMS records at the spring nationals back in May, had an impressive summer. He chipped away at some world records in the 75-79 age group at two meets this summer in California, then lowered two of them again in Oregon.

In the 100 breast, Freshley beat his three-month-old world record of 1:28.30 with a 1:27.74, then wrapped up his meet with a 3:13.93 in the 200 breast. That broke his world record of 3:14.37 set in May.

He swam a 2:59.27 in the 200 IM, just missing the unofficial world record of 2:59.01 he swam two weeks ago in California. His August performances make him the oldest swimmer to break the 3-minute barrier in the event. Before Freshley’s assault on the records, the previous world mark had been 3:06.58 by Burwell Jones from 2009.

Freshley also set aim at his world record of 6:34.91 in the 400 IM from early August, but fell short with a 6:44.95.

Another frequent record breaker in 2016 was Charlotte Davis, who helped give Puget Sound Masters extra exposure with four long course world records to go along with the 6 short course yards national marks she posted at last spring’s nationals. After posting a 6:31.42 in the 400 IM in July to break the world record of 6:37.45, Davis lowered it further with a 6:28.60 in Oregon.

By comparison, the remaining three world records by Davis were nailbiters. She broke the 200 IM world record by 1.1 seconds with a 2:54.74, and clipped the 50 fly world record by .43 with a 33.66. In her final event of the meet, she took down the 100 free world record with a 1:07.88, shaving 1.35 seconds off the record.

A Cross-Country Trek

Though the overwhelming majority of athletes at nationals came from neighboring states, some traveled great distances in order to call themselves national champions. Dot Munger, 65, of North Carolina Masters was one of them, and she was rewarded for her cross-country trip with two world records in the 65-69 age group. Munger posted an 11:18.25 in the 800 free, shattering the previous world record of 11:31.53 set by Charlotte Davis last year. Munger returned to post a 5:27.73 in the 400 free, and she managed to claim the record by just six hundredths of a second.

These swims marked Munger’s first-ever FINA Masters world records, but she says records weren’t on her mind when she took to the blocks in Gresham. “I just wanted to swim the races as well as I could,” she says. “I wanted to negative split (my distance freestyle races), so the construction of a race is what interests me most.”

Munger also showed her diversity with national records in two breaststroke events. She swam a 41.93 in the 50 breast and 1:34.53 in the 100 breast. She recognizes the oddity of being a sprint breaststroker and a distance freestyler, but shrugs it off saying, “that’s the way it’s always been.”

Tough Season of Transition Yields World Records

Mention Robert Strand in Masters swimming circles, and “breaststroke superstar” is the typical response. Five years after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, Strand continues to perform well in the pool, putting on a record-setting show in Gresham.

The 70-year-old Strand, representing Sawtooth Masters in Idaho, clipped two breaststroke world records in Oregon by very slim margins. In his first event, the 100 breast, he swam a 1:23.63, barely beating Kenneth Frost’s 2014 world record by two hundredths of a second. Strand managed to beat the world record in the 50 breast by a slightly larger margin with a 36.68 to take down his own 36.85 set in May.

Strand labeled his breaststroke performances as “disappointments,” noting that “I’m extremely tough on myself. It was a hard summer of transition (from short course to long course),” Strand says. “But, I’m very happy with my wins.”

In addition to his world record-breaking sprint breaststroke swims, Strand posted a 3:07.26 in the 200 breast, good for a USMS record. He also notched a USMS mark in the 200 IM with a 2:54.06 and won a surprise national title in the 50 free. “But that was because Richard Abrahams wasn’t there,” Strand says, referring to the sprint star who owns multiple sprint freestyle records.

Strand said his cancer battle is in the distant past, and he’s constantly looking for ways to get better in the pool. “I was pretty motivated to swim well in Gresham after doing so well at (Spring Nationals in) Greensboro,” he says. “Luckily, they put on a great meet in Oregon, which makes swimming fast easier to do.”

Other world record breakers in Oregon included:

  • Japanese Olympian Noriko Inada from Phoenix Swim Club, who set records in the 50 back (28.63) and 100 back (1:02.24) in the 35-39 age group;
  • South African Olympian Graham Johnston from Masters of South Texas, who posted a 3:07.33 in the 200 free and 6:53.36 in the 400 free for two new records in the 85-89 age group;
  • Fort Lauderdale’s Cecilia McCloskey, who posted a backstroke world record trifecta in the 65-69 age group (36.11 in the 50 back, 1:20.17 in the 100 back, 2:56.63 in the 200 back);
  • Cindy Mabee of Victoria Masters Swim Club (Canada), who earned records in the 50 back (31.02) and 100 back (1:07.31) in the 45-49 age group;
  • David Guthrie of Rice Aquatic Masters, who kept chipping away at his own world records in the 55-59 age group with times of 30.65 in the 50 breast and 2:30.63 in the 200 breast; and
  • Katie Glenn of Stanford Masters Swimming, whose 32.47 in the 50 breast set a new standard in the 40-44 age group.

Maurine Kornfeld was one of the oldest athletes in attendance at USMS Summer Nationals, and the 95-year-old from Rose Bowl Masters added to her accomplishments with a 5:03.47 in the 200 free to break the world record of 5:04.08 set in 2013 by Rita Simonton.

All records are unofficial until verified.