Over sixties strike gold at Masters Swimming Championship
Eighty-four-year-old Russel Wolpe and 79-year-old Salome Hurwitz proved that age is just a number at the South African Masters National Swimming Championships in Cape Town from 9 to 13 March.
They won a combined total of nine gold medals at the 37th edition of the annual long-course swimming event, which took place at the indoor pool in the University of the Western Cape.
The duo’s fellow Johannesburg-based athletes, Joel Finn and Selwyn Sundelowitz, also came out swimming, with Finn winning three gold medals in the 60 to 64 age group, while Sundelowitz bagged four medals in the 70 to 74 age group.
Masters swimming is swum in categories of five-year age groups starting from the age of 18. The event is a highlight on the competitive swimmer’s calendar. It’s about fun, fitness, fellowship, and motivates for a healthy lifestyle.
At this year’s championships, 343 swimmers participated, including a 96-year-old, in the Olympic-standard 50m pool. Participants were from all over South Africa and other countries. Although COVID-19 restrictions meant fewer swimmers competed than in previous editions, the races were competitive, with several ex-Olympians competing.
“You basically swim against the clock, so you aren’t really interested in who’s swimming,” says the Johannesburg-based Hurwitz, who has been a swimming teacher for 56 years. “I could be swimming against 70-year-olds because of the time I put in for my races.”
She swam in the 80 to 84 age group as she will be falling into that category this year. “Not a hell of a lot” of people swam in this age group, she says.
She won gold in the 200m breaststroke, 50m butterfly and 50m and 100m breaststroke. She achieved a further two gold medals as part of the relay team and collected a silver medal in the 50m backstroke.
In the 50m butterfly, she missed the record by 0.01 seconds. “What’s 0.01?” she asks. “They should have given it to me, don’t you think? I should have grown my fingernails or something.”
Wolpe, in his 25th Masters, was one of the six swimmers swimming in the 85 to 90 age group. He won gold in the 50m breaststroke, 50m freestyle, and 800m freestyle. He attained silvers in the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, and 200m freestyle.
“I used to be a Comrades runner and all that sort of thing. At the age of about 50, I decided to do something more casual, so I moved from running to swimming,” says Wolpe, a chartered accountant who swims about three times a week.
Wolpe, who grew up in Rustenburg, says the key to his longevity in swimming is dedication. “It takes a mindset that you want to keep fit. It’s easy to just sit on a couch, watch TV, and do nothing. Then you see the consequences.”
Sundelowitz says South Africa’s swimmers are “the best of the best”. Although this Athlone Boys alumnus claims he’s not one of them, he scooped a gold medal in the three-kilometre open water swim, a silver in the 800m freestyle, as well as a bronze in the 400m freestyle and 200m backstroke at the championships.
“The facility at the University of the Western Cape was excellent,” says Sundelowitz, a retired architect. This was my 24th Masters Championships. I’ve been to 10 World Championships.”
Whereas Sundelowitz started swimming at the age of 14, his fellow four-days-a-week swimmer, Finn, took up the sport as a five-year-old.
A Highlands North Boys alumnus, Finn swam in the 60 to 64 age group, winning gold in the 400m freestyle, 200m individual medley, and 800m freestyle. He also achieved a bronze medal in a relay.
This sales representative says between eight and 10 swimmers participated in each of those swims.
“In the 800m freestyle and 200m individual medley, I broke the long-standing Gauteng provincial records in the 60 to 64 age group,” says Finn. “I’ve been swimming for the past 55 years of my life, so swimming has been a big, big part of my life. Obviously, my lifestyle has revolved around that passion for many years.”
In addition to having participated in Masters events for the past 10 years, Finn says, “I’ve participated in five Masters Nationals now. In the previous four, I achieved golds in most of the events I entered.”
Hurwitz, who has been swimming since the age of five, says she swam at her peak in 1957. “That year, I got a second and a third at the Maccabi Games,” she says.
A qualified schoolteacher who majored in physical education, Hurwitz trains three times a week, depending on how tired she feels after teaching swimming for five hours a day at Pirates Club in Greenside. “I’ve heated and enclosed its swimming pool,” she says, pointing out that she built a pool at Beaconsfield Club, where she used to teach.
She teaches children between the ages of two and a half and 11. “I love the children,” says Hurwitz. “Once they show any promise, I send them to a coach.”
Hurwitz and Finn agree that swimming is an injury-free sport. “Swimming is wonderful,” says Hurwitz. “It’s an amazing way to keep fit. You know you can’t hurt yourself. You’re weightless in the water. I would like to try and swim for as long as I can.”
Says Finn, “For healthy mind and body, it’s a great sport. You can do it for a long time. It’s my therapy during the week. It’s so good for the muscles, for co-ordination, breathing, for your lungs and heart.”