By Nancy Ridout and Phillip Whitten

The 7th FINA World Masters Swimming Championships: Adventure in North Africa

At Morocco, swimmers had to take the good with the bad, but they left with unforgettable memories.

CASABLANCA, Morocco—On June 19-25, more than 2,600 swimmers, divers and water polo players from more than 50 countries met at the Complexe Sportif Mohammed V swimming and diving facility in Casablanca, Morocco, for fast swimming, keen competition, good will through sport and new friendships.

The city of Casablanca, four million strong, is a typical Third World industrial city, physically charmless and bearing no resemblance to its romanticized image from the movie of the same name. But the people of Casablanca and Morocco were most gracious. The food was wonderful (though nobody—not even the Moroccans—drank the water), beautiful flowers were everywhere, fruits were delicious and ubiquitous, and the outdoor bazaars (souks) were a real experience.

Another experience was driving—or rather, riding, in a taxi! The taxi drivers must have taken lessons at Le Mans! Two lanes routinely carried three or four lanes of traffic, and traffic signs and lights were usually ignored. It was quite extraordinary (not to mention stressful) to see your cab charging headlong, at breakneck speed, for the tiny space up ahead with absolutely no regard whatsoever for other cars or pedestrians.

The city is proud of the new Mosque Hassan II, which took nine years to build and sits astride the Atlantic Ocean. (It seems like everything in Morocco—from mosques to pools to streets to plazas—is named either for the current king, Hassan II, or his father, Mohammed V.) A stunning building, the mosque holds 25,000 people for prayers inside with space for another 80,000 outside. The inside is beautifully appointed with sculptured plaster, marble and various woods, and the outside is lit at night and was visible from the hotel where many of the U.S. Masters swimmers stayed.

There were, however, problems:

  • The empty lanes that should have been occupied by ten listed Israeli swimmers raised political questions previously ignored in our sport (see "Editor's Note," page 6).
  • Medical preparedness was totally inadequate, and we were fortunate that the two medical emergencies turned out to be relatively minor.
  • Meet registration was totally disorganized. On the first day, it took some athletes over four hours to get their credentials.
  • The women's toilets that were promised repeatedly over the past two years never materialized. New plastic toilet paper dispensers decorated the men's bathrooms, though, inevitably, they were devoid of toilet paper.
  • Rigid bureaucracy forced swimmers to take a circuitous route from the pool deck to the stands, as the short, direct route was guarded by "soldiers" who were reserving the red-carpeted area for dignitaries who materialized only during opening ceremonies.
  • Due to problems in disk data transfers and inexperience, the first days of the meet were frustrating for swimmers and organizers alike. After that, patience and good humor emerged as the prevailing mood, and things seemed to go more smoothly. As the Moroccans repeated in their mantra to every obstacle, "no problem."

    Despite the problems, there were superb performances in the pool as swimmers from 30 nations took home gold medals, 33 world records were demolished and 14 swimmers swept all five of their events.

    America's R. Tod Spieker was the meet's outstanding swimmer, winning all five of his events in the men's 50-54 division, four in world record time. Spieker, who represents The Olympic Club in San Francisco, set world marks in the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyles as well as the 200 back and just missed a fifth in winning the 400 IM.

    Two swimmers won five events and set three world records: Great Britain's Eddie Riach and Germany's Dagmar Hilbig. Riach won the men's 45-49 100 and 200 back and the 400 IM in record times, while also taking the 50 back and 200 IM. Hilbig blitzed the women's 40-44 breaststroke standards at all three distances, then added wins in the 50 fly and 200 IM.

    America's Bill Phillips set world marks in the 200 and 400 free for men 70-74, while 1964 Olympic hero Steve Clark engraved his name in the men's 55-59 record book in the 50 free and 50 fly.

    Germany's Hannelore Roese (women 55-59) and Edith Boehm (women 70-74) and New Zealand's Antoinette Rodahl (women 65-69) each notched a pair of world marks.

    Men who were five-event winners included Britain's Paul Blackbeard (great name!) in the 40-44 age group; the USA's Bob Strand, 50-54, who just missed the world marks in the 50 and 100 breast; Kevin Vickery, 75-79, of the Ettalong Pelicans (best team name at the meet!) in Australia; and Germany's Richard Reinstadtler in the 85-89 division.

    Women who had to carry five gold medals through customs included America's Danielle Ogier, 45-49; USMS president, Nancy Ridout, whose times in the women's 55-59 50 and 100 free were heart-breakingly close to the global standards; June Krauser, past USMS president, in the 70-74 division; and Margery Meyer, 75-79. Krauser and Meyer had some added enjoyment when their offspring—June's son, Larry (men's 45-49 100 free), and Margery's daughter, Marguerite (women's 35-39 800 free)—also won gold.

    Others who took five included Karen Bendsten, Denmark, 65-69; Gertrude Meerwald, Germany, 75-79; and Bernarda Angulo, Spain, 85-89.

    Several husband/wife teams were golden in "Casa," topped by Sweden's Glen and Ann Christiansen who won three events apiece. Glen also set a world record in the 50 breast for men 40-44.

    While the competition was fierce in the pool, outside on the lawns, the smokers and sunbathers (with and without tops) enjoyed the surprisingly moderate weather and made new friends. Music was a constant accompaniment, and an outdoor café supplied drinks and snacks, a restaurant provided meals, vendors sold Moroccan goods, and a small native Moroccan band played and danced for our entertainment.

    Inside, there was room for thousands in the stands, several public address systems kept us more-or-less up-to-date on the swimming and diving, and synchronized swimming music added to the cacophony. Shirts, pins, dolls and other assorted memorabilia were traded and sold inside and out.

    In the end, world records were shattered, personal bests were attained, apprehensions and fears were overcome while old friendships were renewed and new ones made.

    The next World Championships will be held in Munich, Germany, July 29-Aug. 8, in the year 2000, with a record number of participants predicted. The planning is well under way, and the meet promises to be well organized and an unforgettable experience.

    Nancy Ridout is president of USMS. Phillip Whitten is editor-in-chief of SWIM Magazine.