Tony Pearce continues his series about the Spencer early years.
Photo shows early Spencer swimmers Tony Pearce, John Middleton, John Gordon and Vic Lohr at the US Masters short course championships in Irvine, California in 1981.
The Golden Era of Australian Swimming. But Which One?
Swimming history seems to have been dominated by the aptly described “Golden Era of Australian Swimming” But Which One? At the Sydney 2000, Olympic Games Australia was supreme. However, although it now seems more like swimming archaeology than swimming history, there was, believe it or not, another golden era of Australian Swimming some half a century earlier in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, as a young teenage swimmer, I was a particular admirer of the way Australian swimmer Murray Rose swam.
I distinctly remember him winning the 1500m free at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games beating the legendary Japanese swimmer Tsuyoshi Yamanaka and the favourite, U.S swimmer George Breen (infamous for his characteristic crossover kick). He also went on to win the 400m free at the Rome 1960 Olympics. And, in my opinion, he could have won the Tokyo 1964 Olympics too. But that’s another story. To me, at that time, he was an idol for any young competitive swimmer to emulate. He was the original alright. He was the one with the gift. And he loved swimming too. Yes. He was the lone ranger.
“Travel with Us to the Stars!”
Meanwhile, at the culmination of the 1970s, the Spencer Masters Swim Team, based in London, England, having achieved honours at the U.S Long Course (50m) Masters Nationals in Rhode Island, New England, embarked upon further challenges. Yes, “Travel with Us to the Stars!” was the war cry.
An initial foray to the 1980 U.S Short Course Championships at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was followed in 1981 by the U.S Short Course Masters Nationals in Irvine, California.
Amongst the team for Irvine were John Gordon (coach) with swimmers, myself (both 35-39 Year Age Group) and the incomparable Vic Lohr RIP (45-49 Year Age Group).
The team trained at the Spencer Park School pool. From humble beginnings indeed. An Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) facility. Evening use masqueraded as an Adult Education Institute encompassing swimming.
Employed as an ILEA swimming teacher, John Gordon, coach extraordinaire, had founded the Spencer Swim Team in the name of “purposeful use”. The pool was only 20 yards long and three lanes wide and situated on the Trinity Road, Wandsworth, South West London. It was in the County Arms pub just over the road that the expedition to compete in these championships was initiated.
The pool itself was not a great aquatic facility, to say the least, but it was our home, and we made the very best use of it. We were a very tightly knit training group. In my opinion, it was truly the real beginning of a genre of masters swimming that pioneered masters swimming in the U.K.
Well. We arrived at Irvine. Although Masters swimming in the U.S was still relatively young competition was intense. The times were changing. Literally. They were getting even faster. Yet another swimming generation, seemingly empowered by age had arrived. Resulting in some unusual match-ups.
Apart from relatively unknown U.S college swimmers beating the U.S established Olympians of yore the championships, being open, allowed swimmers from other countries to add yet another competitive dimension. My Race. The 1650 yards free. In essence, a 1500m free. I was drawn in the same heat as and in the next lane, as fate would have it, next to – Murray Rose (40-44 Year Age Group).
The Final Count. Murray Rose beat me. In boxing terms. Very simply. A Great Champion beat a good Journeyman.
I achieved a 6th place bronze finalist medal in my age group.
I took pride in my placing. Of course, Murray Rose won his age group. But, as I recollect, he did not overlap me. I got a 19.13.35, a personal best, to his 17.56.95. Success is often measured in comparison with others. Excellence, on the other hand, is all about being the best we can be. I shook Murray Rose’s hand afterwards. Apart from the conventional well done. Although already being an avid fan of his, I did not engage in further conversation with him. Up until recent years. I have never really reasoned why. But now, I like to think that I now have the sense to make sense.
Yes, I’m the Lone Ranger
Murray Rose is now sadly deceased.
Swimming pundits of note still cite Murray Rose as one of the greatest swimmers ever. I’ll still go with that. Why? Because, as with undoubtedly many others, Murray Rose taught me something.
Through swimming in the same pool with him – not against him – I learnt something about myself. I learnt to rationalise what matters in life. Ever since being that aforementioned young teenage swimmer, I always wanted to be a swimming coach. And that’s what I still am today. And just as he did, I love swimming.
All my life never hardly a day passes without a swim practice. Yes, I am a masters swimmer. The next World Masters Swimming Championships. Now, for me, it’s the 75-79 Year Age Group. Yes. I’ll have some of that. Yes. I’m the Lone Ranger. No matter what a man says.
It’s what he does in the end.
What he intended to do all along.