Kazan 2015: Rather swim than walk


While participants of the men’s breaststroke races left the last call room as the heats followed each other in quick succession – 30 heats were held alone in this event! – a nice, old gentleman was sitting at the exit. His walking stick was just leant to the chair he got, and he silently waited for the end of the competition. Well, in his age (85) and with his minor disability, Peter Couttie found it better to get the closest possible to the pool deck, since he was called soon to the victory ceremony of the 100m free event. And if you travel to Kazan from the remote Australia, one thing is for sure: you simply cannot miss your big occasion when you receive your gold medal.

The new world champion is coming from the south western side of the continent, he did running in his heydays, then took on triathlon where was admitted to swimming. “There was no one in my hometown who would teach me swimming” he says. “So I did it on my own. Read books, tried some techniques. It worked somehow.”

Then something terrible happened: during a triathlon event he was hit by a car during the cycling stage of a competition. After the accident he could no longer run. “But there was swimming which I really loved, so I went on swimming only.” Outside the pool he has to use the stick, but in the water it’s really different. “I can tell you, I could swim faster than I walk…” he smiles.

Peter Couttie (AUS, right) came from Australia to collect gold at the Masters Worlds

Mr. Couttie’s presence in Kazan is a real testimony of the Masters movement: he flew via Vietnam to Moscow and landed in Kazan after a 20-hour or so trip. But he felt, he had to be here, at the World Championships. “You know, I’m here, even if my wife is a little bit fed up following me all around the world. But I thought I should come. We have this event so I have to be here.” And in two years time in Budapest? “Well, we’ll see… How much my wife will be fed up with another trip to Europe…”

From the Masters to Rio?

On the other side of the age-scale, we have Sarra Lajnef, just 26. Recently, she was the lonely international female swimmer from Tunisia. She took part in the 2012 Olympic Games, earned a handful of medals at the 2011 All-African Games – but as the level of swimming dropped in her native country, she called it a day last year. She had a job in Dubai, where she bid farewell to her beloved sport at the FINA World Cup event.

Sarra Lajnef (TUN), on the left

However, just a couple of months ago she found herself missing swimming badly. “You know, I missed the competition. So I returned the pool and restarted my trainings. It hurt a lot at the beginning but I tried very hard. Ramadan came soon which didn’t help to be faster, still, I wanted to come back.”

And she did – here, at the Masters. “When I started again, I couldn’t make the cut for the FINA World Championships so I decided to compete here, where is no cut, no standards.” And she clocked 1:14.80 in the 100m breaststroke, finishing second to Russia’s Daria Belova. “This is the time which is on the edge. If I came in 1:18, I would have said, OK, leave it as it is, there is no way back. But that 1:14 after just two months of training makes me think, it is worth to put in further efforts to make Rio. It can be realistic, so I’ll go on and try.”

That would be a great and unique story – the road to Rio, leading through the Masters. Why not?