Looking Back at Historic Masters Swimming Performances

By Ella Milloy, Swimming Canada

Competitors at the 2022 Speedo Masters Canadian Swimming Championships earlier this year proved that it is never too late to get involved in swimming. Judith Oliver and Christopher Smith, two 90-year-olds, were among those who broke numerous records over the May long weekend.

Oliver, of Pointe-Claire Masters, has been involved in swimming for 85 years. Her parents got her involved in the sport when she was five, learning to swim at a local ‘Y’ Oliver started competing in Masters swimming in 1975. Since then, she has broken countless FINA Masters World Records and Canadian records.

At this year’s national championships, Oliver broke records in all six of her individual events, including the 200-m butterfly and the 400-m individual medley. Oliver also swam the butterfly leg of Pointe-Claire’s women’s 4×100-m individual medley relay, which broke the Masters World Record in a time of 7:59.78.

While describing how her events went at the championships, Oliver kept it short and sweet.

“We had an awesome relay today,” she said.

Oliver was inducted into the Masters Swimming Canada Hall of Excellence in 2010. In 2013, she was named an Honor Masters Swimmer by the Masters International Swimming Hall of Fame (MISHOF).

Oliver says she stays motivated through the pursuit of her goals and the relationships she has built within the Masters community.

“Going out after our Thursday night workouts,” Oliver said. “The times, even. There’s always a goal. That kind of keeps you going. And all of the friendships. The people I’m meeting.”

On the other side of the competition, Christopher Smith also made swimming history. Smith broke Canadian records for his age group in both the 100-m and 200-m individual medley.

Smith learned to swim when he was four.

“We lived just up the hill from a beautiful beach in Bermuda,” Smith explained. “When my mother took me and my little sister to the beach, the first thing I would do was run into the water. That was when I was two or three. She didn’t think that was a very good idea, so I was taught how to swim. I lived in the ocean when I was a kid.”

In 1966, Smith started officiating. He heard about Masters in 1971 when it was introduced to the swimming community in Toronto. At the time, Smith says he was officiating for his kids and didn’t have enough time to get involved himself. He eventually joined a Masters program at a local university in 1985.

“I was just doing an hour a week,” Smith said. “I certainly wasn’t ready for competition. My first real competition was in 1990. I’ve been involved ever since.”

Smith has experienced many incredible moments throughout his 86 years involved in the sport. However, one memory stood out for him.

“I’ve broken one world record and it was on a relay with Judith,” Smith said. “It was in Christchurch, New Zealand. Judie was just exceptional in the butterfly. We had a fantastic backstroke and a lady who could only do freestyle. I had to do breaststroke. It’s my worst stroke and I got a world record!”

Smith and Oliver echoed each other’s advice to swimmers looking to get involved with Masters.

“Get into it,” Smith said. “Don’t push yourself too hard at first. Ease into it.”

“Just go for it,” Oliver said. “Just do it. It’s a lot of fun.”