Going the distance with champion 84-year-old swimmer

john davey

John Davey (right) with Steve Mullins at the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships.

John Davey offers a simple explanation of why he won the 3km open water freestyle gold medal in the 80 to 84-year-old age category at the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships held in Budapest, Hungary earlier this month.

“The longer it is the better I go,” Mr Davey said.

Mr Davey, who was born in 1932 and turns 85 in a few weeks, also conceded that: “The older you get the less competition there is.”

While it might true that there were only two men swimming the 3km event in his age category, the other was Mr Davey’s archrival, American Steve Mullins, also born in 1932.

“I’ve swum against him a few times this is the first time I’ve beaten him,” Mr Davey said, who finished three minutes faster than the American with a winning time of 1:27:31.

Mr Davey said this was quite slow for him.

“I’d usually do that (3km) in the pool in 1:10,” he said.

What slowed him were the course conditions at Lake Balaton in Hungary.

“When you get in the water and it’s a bit choppy and you’re swimming a circuit and all you’ve got to guide you is buoys in the water,” he said

Mr Davey said he had to keep the buoys to his left but often veered some distance right.

“You’ve got to really stop to see where they are,” he said.

Mr Mullins exacted some revenge by beating Mr Davey into second place in the 800m.

Over the 10 days of the meet Mr Davey also swam in the 400, 200, 100 and 50m events. He finished fourth in the 400m and sixth in 200m.

To keep in training Mr Davey swims 3km from 5.30am three times a week by doing laps of Croydon pool in Melbourne’s east.

Mr Davey said he wasn’t really a lifelong swimmer but it was something he had gotten into seriously about the time he retired from full-time work around 1986.

“I used to swim a lot as a kid, didn’t swim again for about 40 years, then started when the Masters started up,” he said.

Masters Swimming is open to anyone above the age of 25, with the world championships held every two years, often at the same venues and around the same time as the Olympian-level world championships.

Mr Davey has competed in every world championships since the 1990 event held in Rio.

“My wife enjoys it because we normally take a trip after the swim,” he said.

He said there were roughly 7000 to 8000 swimmers from around the world at the Budapest meet with a team of 170 representing Australia.

Mr Davey also participates every year in the Lorne Pier to Pub 1.2km open water swim, which he has completed 24 times.

This might seem impressive but he points out that multiple Masters Swimming Championship gold medallist Dorothy Dickey, who is 18 months his senior, also enters every year and then beats him by at least a minute.

It’s not just in the pool that Mr Davey keeps active. The former North Ringwood Uniting Church treasurer also works one day a week at the Uniting Church Lt Collins St offices in Melbourne, where he is the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania titles project officer.

The work entails keeping track of church property titles and he said it is very interesting as it often entails a fair bit of historical research.

Not everyone, however, is happy that even when not swimming on Thursdays he still gets up at 5.30am to be in the office by 7.

“I should have finished five years ago according to my wife,” Mr Davey said.

While Mr Davey said he was starting to think it was time to quit work altogether, he certainly has no intention of retiring from the pool.

“It’s great exercise and it’s not jarring like running,” he said.

“You get into a routine and when you get out of that routine is when you suffer with tiredness.

“I’ll keep swimming until I can’t, no doubt about that. I get withdrawal symptoms if I miss a morning.”

If you have been inspired by John’s swimming feats you might like to try Masters Swimming, which has clubs throughout Victoria and Tasmania. Starting from tomorrow there are four and 16-month memberships being offered. Get more membership info here .

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