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The Great Masters Debate and Yorkshire Masters Swimming

Every now and again, someone pops up out of the deep end and writes an article for the website. Sometimes these are former Dartes swimmers with happy memories to share. Often they're current members with something special or interesting to shout about. Either way, if it's interesting and in some way connected to Dartes or Doncaster Swimming, we'll probably publish it.
Here's one of those articles.

The Stories behind the Headlines


Back in 2004 a trio of Dartes swimmers were selected to represent Yorkshire Masters in the ASA Inter County Masters Competition. Kevin Nicholas (Spa), Alistair Davies (Spa) and Dave Cuthbert (Edl - at the time) were joined by Doncaster Water Polo Coach Brian Taylor, on a team that won the regional round and were runners up nationally behind Warwickshire.

Since then, other Doncaster swimmers (and former Dartes athletes) have represented the Yorkshire Masters squad too, Sam Seddon (Adw) and Jackie Buxton (SAS) among them. The question often asked is whether Doncaster's fragmented bunch of masters swimmers would benefit from competing, or to some extent training, together under the Dartes banner.

In the following article, the current secretary of the DMASA and keen masters swimmer, Julie Hirst (SAS), places the subject open for debate. She's happy to do the paper work if you guys are interested in making it happen.

Make your views on this subject known.
If you're interested, get in touch:

Author: Julie Hirst
Date: March 2009

It's not all Blue Rinses and Flowery Hats

Although we've all had lots to think about here at DARTES over the past year, what with taking on new coaches and finding alternative funding, there have been some little rumbles in a couple of corners about Masters swimming and its possible place within the club.

Just in case you are a Masters virgin, or in case you think you know it all about Masters, here is a quick guide.

What is the difference between Masters swimming and Age Group/Youth

Generally, Masters have less streamlined bodies, more body hair (that’s just the ladies) and have mortgages (more about the streamlined bodies later). Masters competitions throw up lots of anomalies and role reversals. Typically, at meets the car parks are only half full, and balconies are mainly empty of spectators because Masters swimmers’ parents usually can’t make it, especially those of the 90+ age groups. The occasional child can be heard shouting things like:

There are also longer lunch breaks to give the competitors more time in the bar, or to be resuscitated before the next session.

What is Masters swimming?

Swimmers are eligible for Masters swimming once they reach 25 years and Masters swim in 5 year age group bands, from 25-29 and upwards as required. The oldest age group result so far is in the 100-104 group! Unlike Age Groupers, who usually gain the advantage when they are the oldest at a meet, Masters swimmers look forward to "ageing up" so they can be the youngest in their age band and beat all the oldies!

Why can Masters swim in Open Age races, but not the other way around?

Only an Age Grouper would ask this; life is not fair, so get used to it. However, most Masters competitions also include the 18-20 and 20-24 groups. This younger end of the market has been introduced for younger swimmers who find opportunities narrow once they reach 18/19. Especially as Open National qualifying is quite tough. These are effectively Senior Age Groupers as you can’t be a Master until 25.

Many masters find that once back into training, they are not far off their old PBs. How many of you saw Jackie Buxton swim in the Open Age at the DMASA championships and marvelled at her winning medals aged 43?

I know she will thank me for that ...
But, she also used to swim at the METS for Edlington, way back in the olden days of the 70s and 80s.

Why can Masters swimmers use breaststroke legs on butterfly?

Again, only a young person would not see why. It is obvious: the ASA do not want deaths on their hands following Masters 200 fly races. Masters swim under ASA law, with slight variations, such as the permitting of breaststroke legs in fly. Note that a Master swimming fly in an Open age cannot, however, use breaststroke legs.

Where do Masters compete?

Masters swimming has a full calendar of local, County, Regional and National level events. The main difference is that there are no qualifying times, so as long as you pay your ASA fee, you can even enter the National Championships!

Imagine that in age group swimming - The National BAGCATS would last six months!!

Most Masters events are organised by entry time, so you get to swim with others of a comparable speed. Also, Masters swimmers can enter individual events under one club and team events under another. This helps swimmers without team mates to take part in relay events. Relays are organised into minimum cumulative ages, typically 120 years, 160, 200!

Why haven’t I heard of any famous Masters swimmers?

You have!

Team GB had a Masters swimmer at the Beijing Olympics; Mark Foster. Mr “Twinkletoes” Foster, born in 1970, was first selected to swim for Britain aged 15, and at 38 was the oldest member of the British team in Beijing, his 5th Olympic appearance. Swimming really is a lifelong sport! The photo above is Mark on the TV programme "Strictly Come Dancing". Sadly, Mark failed to increase the size of his trophy cabinet on this occassion.

Mark Foster may not have fulfilled his lifelong dream of an Olympic medal in the 50m free in Beijing, but another (even older) Masters swimmer made the medals table.

Dara Torres, a then 41 year old mother, won three silver medals. Her Olympic history is phenomenal. She won nine Olympic medals in all while competing at Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), and then at Sydney (2000), where she won five medals despite having been retired from swimming for most of the 1990s.

After retiring again after Sydney and thus missing Athens, she made yet another come back (after the birth of her daughter) in time for Beijing where she won silver medals in the 50-metre freestyle, the 4x100 freestyle relay, and the 4x100 medley relay.

Having qualified to swim for USA in both 100m and 50m free, she chose to concentrate on the 50m event, where she believed she had a realistic chance of a medal. Her lifelong talent also showed on August 1st, 2007 at the age of 40 (just 15 months after giving birth to her first child), when she won gold in the 100 metre freestyle at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, her 14th win at these events. Can you see her stretch marks? Didn’t think so.

The physique of the above two athletes would be remarkable at any age, but shows that age is no barrier to physical fitness. Sadly, not all Masters’ bodies are built in this streamlined way, which brings us to an interesting dilemma.

Masters at DARTES?

Most clubs around Doncaster have a healthy Masters population, with dedicated pool time. The question is should DARTES also have a Masters Section? Consideration ought to be given to a DARTES Masters Section proper, with water and land time, and perhaps a dedicated coach (any volunteers?)

Doncaster's coaches do appear to be falling over themselves to be seen on the deck at DARTES sessions these days, would any be interested in taking on a Masters squad?

This leaves the issue of pool time and how to structure such a squad. Given the possible ages of Masters swimmers, any form of selection is problematic. It is very easy to say that we only want to see nice streamlined, honed bodies on the starting blocks representing DARTES. However, there is a basic difference in the ethos of Masters and (for want of a better phrase) non-Masters swimmers. The basic premise of Masters is that anyone of any age and any ability can and do compete. Masters swimmers seem to be more focused on their own progress, rather than comparing themselves to the competition. Many swim for the company and camaraderie that masters swimming brings and any Masters Meet will encompass a wide range of abilities and ages, even the World Championships. To introduce selection criteria for Masters at DARTES would be a huge challenge given this is a very inclusive branch of the sport. Similarly to introduce DARTES Master’s training session into an already busy and packed pool schedule, would be logistically demanding.

An initial way forward might be this. With Masters swimming on the increase, it would be possible to put together highly competitive teams from the Doncaster area at Regional and National level, thus bringing some additional publicity for Doncaster Swimming, as well as providing positive role models for the younger members. This could be achieved without having to create water time in an already busy pool schedule.

Is there anyone out there interested in swimming as a DARTES Master?

Think about this. The next World Masters is in Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s not too far away in distance or time (28th June – 7th August 2010). Could DARTES put a team on the podium?

Dates for Masters meets this season

Finally, for inspiration.
A little more about the phenomenon that is Dara Torres: