Guest editorial by John Craig
PHOENIX, Arizona, June 4. THERE's a big dichotomy right now between the official Masters records in the younger age groups and the unofficial ones. As the rules stand, in order to set an official FINA Masters world record you must do it in a Masters meet, or at least in a meet sanctioned by a Masters organization.
This means that when, say, Alex Popov won the 50 meter freestyle at the World Championships in Barcelona in 2003, his time of 21.93 didn't count as a Masters record, even though he was 31 at the time. The official 30-34 Masters record is 23.21 by Rowdy Gaines. (Gaines has had so much recognition I don't think he'd miss this particular bit; and since then, by the way, Gary Hall Jr. has gone a 21.89 at age 33.)
Masters swimming is not a separate sport, it's the same sport. The fact that world bests set outside Masters competitions are not officially counted smells of petty fiefdoms. (And there's no reason for this, as FINA is the governing body for both.) The fastest 30-34 year old ever is the fastest 30-34 year old ever, regardless of what meet he swims in.
The current rules cheapen the Masters record book just a bit. Given that top swimmers often swim well past their college years, right now the 25-29 and 30-34 records, and in some cases even the 35-39 records, bear little resemblance to what the fastest times for those age groups on record are. Just to give one example: Dara Torres' American record of 24.07 in the 50 meter freestyle from Beijing is the fastest time by anyone in the 40-44 age group; it isn't the 26.59 which is listed as the official Masters world record. It wasn't as if Dara's time was done in an unsanctioned meet.
How much more interesting it would be to look at the Masters record book and see the fastest times ever done at a certain age, rather than the ones which were done only at Masters meets.
A few years back, the rules were changed so that national age group records could be set in high school competition. This made the record book much cleaner, and simpler. A similar change should be made for Masters swimming.
Here is a list of the official Masters world records for men 25-29. Next to it are the fastest men's 25-29 times from the last few years, from the FINA rankings. The FINA rankings list year of birth for each swimmer, so it's easy to tell which ones are at least 25, or at least turn 25 that year (which is the way that FINA measures age for Masters records).
Event; Official Masters record for men 25-29; Unofficial record for same age group
50; 22.59; Frederick Bousquet, 20.94
100; 50.74; Alain Bernard, 47.20
200; 1:52.17; Pieter Van den Hoogenband, 1:45.65
400; 4:00.98; Grant Hackett, 3:43.15
1500; 16:13.89; Grant Hackett, 14:38.92
100; 57.45; Aaron Peirsol, 52.54
200; 2:05.86; Aaron Peirsol, 1:54.32
100; 1:02.65; Kosuke Kitajima, 58.91
200; 2:16.70; Kosuke Kitajima, 2:07.51
100; 53.09; Andriy Serdinov, 51.10
200; 2:03.26; Moss Burmester, 1:54.15
200; 2:06.33; Darian Townsend, 1:57.03
400; 4:31.47; Alessio Boggiatto, 4:10.68
-A few other examples come to mind. The 30-34 men's 200 scm fly record would be 1:50.73 by Franck Esposito, not 2:00.21. The women's 25-29 100 lcm fly record would be 56.61 by Inge de Bruijn, not 1:01.04. The men's 35-39 50 lcm free record would be 21.96 by Mark Foster, not 22.76 (also by Foster). The men's 30-34 100 lcm free record would be 47.58 by Jason Lezak, not 51.34. The women's 100 lcm free record for 25-29 would be 53.05 by Britta Steffen, not 56.87. The list goes on.
This is not meant as criticism in any way of the current official Masters record holders: all are fine athletes, and all deserve credit for staying in great shape past their college years. But when their times are not really the fastest in their age brackets, the phrase "world record" rings a little hollow.
For social commentary by John Craig, visit his blog at justnotsaid.blogspot.com.