By Mel Dyck
TUCSON, AZ, April 23. SOMEONE once said that Arizona isn't a good place to retire if you are a swimmer because so many great swimmers already live there.
That didn't stop more than 250 USMS swimmers from attending the Southwest Zone Short Course Yards Championship Meet held last weekend at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center at the University of Arizona. Host team Ford Aquatics, based at Hillenbrand, ran away with the team title, easily outdistancing intrastate rivals Sun Devil Masters and defending champion Phoenix Swim Club in second and third place.
Thirty-five teams sent swimmers to the meet and there were strong showings by Irvine Novaquatics and San Diego Swim Masters from California and a lively group of Mexican swimmers from a club in Hermosillo, Sonora. This was one of the largest groups of strong swimmers at an Arizona meet in the memory of this writer, with the likes of current record-holders Barbara Dunbar, Ron Johnson, Jackie Marr, Frank Piemme, Gail Roper, Jonelle Schmidt, Rita Simonton, Paul Smith, Jane Swagerty-Hill and Max von Isser all in attendance.
Eight national records and 133 state records were broken along the way. Ron Johnson — Sun Devil Masters' main mentor — just keeps the hammer down, securing records in five of his six swims. Only the 400 IM record eluded his smooth touch in the water.
Competing in the 70-74 age group Johnson clocked 26.08 seconds in the 50 free top erase Frank Piemme's 1998 mark of 26.70; in the 100 free he touched in 1:00.12, trimming 48-hundredths from Chuck Baldwin's standard set last year; Johnson's 29.76 in the 50 fly made him the first septuagenarian under 30 seconds, as he erased Piemme's 30.21 from '98; he sliced 94-hundredths from Baldwin's 100 IM mark, clocking 1:08.39; finally, in the 200 IM he went 2:37.31, a second-and-a-half under Graham Johnston's 2:38.83 from last year.
Just up the street from Johnson's venue swims Jane Swagerty-Hill, one of Phoenix Swim Club's strong competitors in the 50-54 age group. Swagerty-Hill has already been busy this year splashing away old records and continued at last weekend's meet. She claimed records in the 50 Free, 50 Back and 100 IM.
Swaggerty-Hill, a 1968 Olympic bronze medalist, clocked 26.28 in the 50 free, well under Diana Todd's standard of 26.55. In the 50 back she lowered her own 6-week old mark of 30.25, as her 29.77 made her the oldest woman ever to crack 30m seconds. Finally, she touched in 1:07.71 in the 100IM, slicing three-hundredths of a second off the record set by fellow Olympian Susan Roy-Jones two years ago.
One venerable state record in the men's 500 Free still belongs to Buster Crabbe, dating back to 1973. Although only registered Arizona swimmers may officially hold a state record, both Sam Jones of New Mexico Masters and Buddy Belshe of Huntington Beach Swim Club dropped 45 seconds more or less from that old standard.
For the rest of us mortal swimmers, it was a good taste of variable spring weather in Arizona, lots of great swimming and another chance to see some old friends.