You don’t need to compete to be a masters swimmer, but for many members it’s a fun way to travel and test new waters. It gives swimmers fitness goals and measure their improvements over time. It’s also a chance to make new friends and catch up with old ones. Swim meets are one of the more social aspects of the sport, and can be a highlight of training and team spirit every year.
Competitions are held in “short course” (25 metre or 25 yard) and “long course” (50 metre) pools and feature races in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and individual medley (a combination of all four strokes). Competitors race against other swimmers of the same speed. Results are organized in five-year increments (18-24, 25-29, 30-34, etc. up to the maximum age of the participants).
There are also opportunities to participate in open water competitions. Canada is world famous for its numerous elite marathon swimmers, both at the professional and amateur level. For Masters, some of the clubs in the provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia conduct open water events. Distances normally swum include 1, 3, 5, and 10 kilometres. (For the more adventurous long-distance swimmer, the Ontario Government mandated organization, Solo Swims of Ontario, organizes and conducts an individual’s attempt at swimming across Lake Ontario.)
For those who think competition is only for the elite athletes, swim meets feature all skill levels of swimmers racing against each other or against themselves to better their previous best times. Fellow competitors often warmly applaud a less proficient participant who completes, at least for him or her, an arduous event. Athletes always appreciate another athlete’s gutsy performance. The competitor, in turn, reflects not only on the placing in the event, but also on the self-satisfaction of sheer accomplishment.
If you are a club member, ask your coach if there are other members interested in attending a meet. Going together is a lot of fun, and often an inexpensive way to travel if the meet is out of town. If you are an unattached swimmer, you can also compete independently – just make sure you’ve joined MSO so you have the insurance needed to swim at the meet.
Finding a meet
You will find meets that offer long and short course pools, and open water swimming as well.
Some meets require you to meet minimum times at a previous sanctioned event. If you’re hoping to compete at the Nationals or a similar event, be sure to attend a prior meet so your times are official and you meet the requirements, and make sure this event is sanctioned – which means that proper equipment and practices were used.
Attending a meet
Information about meet is available in the meet package, which is available after you register. This includes information about where to warm up, details about the pool, directions and information about costs, transportation facilities and accommodations related to the meet. Closer to the date of the meet, once everyone is registered, a psych sheet also goes out before the meet so you can see who is competing and what times they are expecting to post.
Once the meet is over, official times will be posted on the MSO site, or the MSC site if the meet was outside Ontario.
Setting a record
Records are recorded for individual meets, all of Ontario and across Canada – be sure to check the existing records so you know what they are. If you think you might set a new record at a meet, let the meet officials know when you arrive at the meet. The meet officials will ensure that proper procedures are followed to verify your time, and make sure your results are recorded and added to the database. They will complete the swim record form on your behalf when the meet is done.