2019 FINA World Masters Championships – Gwangju, South Korea

The FINA World Masters Championships took place in Gwangju between the 5th and 18th August, 2019. Our very own Kath Tunnicliffe competed at the event, this is her story:

“In order to begin to describe Gwangju 2019 I have to go back 19 years to the Munich World Masters in 2000. After just a couple of seasons ‘in masters’ I had thrown the idea of competing at international level to swim buddy, Lindsey Gowland and she’d agreed to go!  That was THE meet to signal ‘lift off’. Once I’d been to a World event, and been inspired watching five guys over 90 years old swim 100 free in front of 5000 cheering spectators in the Olympic pool, and then to my absolute delight, achieved an 8th place in my age group for 50 back, I was smitten.

Fast forward to 2019……the world masters usually follows the elite event by a couple of weeks. This was the case in Gwangju. I’d sat at home and watched most of the World Champs TV coverage, this experience added to the excitement of seeing the real thing. Like London 2016 and Budapest 2017 the magnificent pool had been extended with a temporary spectator wing making the capacity 11,000. Pretty awe inspiring.

The competition pool with temporary spectator stand on the left.

The complex also had a 50 metre warm up pool with   lanes for diving practice and a dedicated backstroke start lane. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that at times you risked life and limb in the warm up pool as there was little or no pool management. This was pretty shameful, as several over 75 year olds became too frightened to use the warm up facility during the competition. 

Not surprisingly, given the location, there were more Korean, Australian Japanese and Chinese competitors than European or American. 119 Brits attended in all disciplines, (I have absolutely no idea about the diving, synchro and water polo competitions). From a personal point of view a couple of key world-class swimmers were absent from my age-group, giving me a realistic chance of top placings in all my events. My final medal tally was 9 medals: 2 golds, 1 silver, 3 bronze and 3 fourth placings which is stunning but like every other competitor you always wish for a little  more! (see my later comment) 

The Koreans created magnificent victory ceremonies.  Medals were presented to the top 6 placings with additional mascots for the top three spots.

Left. Spencer’s 280 + winning team in the Freestyle Relay joined by teams from Brazil (2nd) and Korea (3rd and 4th); Right. 65-69 50m Backstroke. A Canadian (2nd) two Aussies (1st and 3rd) Me (4th), a Japanese (5th) and a Korean (6th)

 Whatever feeling I gained from the awe inspiring pool and the buzz of the competition I think there is one emotion which tops the lot: the interaction with competitors from all over the world. I always transfer my collection of pin badges  onto my accreditation lanyard, this attracts interest and starts new conversations. I renewed acquaintances with my Mexican and Hungarian friends and made new ones from Australia, China, Russia, America, Botswana, Trinidad and Fiji. In the spirit of friendship, my shirt has been exchanged and is now in Shanghai, my caps are in Korea and Mexico.

Top left. Mexican, Lili Vaca. We met in Budapest 2017, and it was great to renew acquaintances, she’s completely mad! Bottom left. lovely gentlemen from Trinidad and Fiji.  Right. Jie Li, working in Shanghai. My shirt went home with her.                       

As I was travelling alone I made two decisions to give me a better experience. One, to join a club which would give me relay opportunities and two, to stay in the athletes village. The first, swimming for Spencer Club, London, was a wise choice, the second I have mixed feelings about.

The Spencer Squad

It’s difficult to describe the athletes village, 20 large skyscrapers, newly built, all of their interiors were covered to protect walls, floors, kitchen units, they included a few pieces of essential furniture but lacked comfort. The village was set up as it had been for the elite swimmers. It included shops, a hairdressers, gym, techno display, massage centre, and excellent free medical facility, laundry, tour desk, and bank, all of which were manned by helpful staff and volunteers. There was excellent free transport to the venue, the train station, and the underground. Breakfast was included in the price of the accommodation and the breakfast buffet was brilliant and included every conceivable dish one could desire inc. Western, Asian, Halãl, and Vegan options.

Things were very different in the evenings and I’m sure this is one aspect which must have been much better for the elite athletes. The menu was really limited, the food was uninspiring, overpriced, with almost no options for me as a vegetarian. The surrounding neighbourhood also seemed to offer few alternatives for a non meat/fish eater. Next to the dining room there was a stage with a programme of performances every night. These shows were quite good, they were mainly frequented by the local Koreans, and didn’t seem to be of very much interest to the swimmers.

Korea (or what little I saw) is a blend of Chinese and Japanese cultures. People are very polite, really helpful, it’s safe, the streets are really clean, the cities are big with hundreds of skyscrapers, the country side is full of paddy fields and there is a preoccupation with mobile phones ( sound familiar? ) 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this account, let me know if you have any specific questions. I am pretty sure I would not have travelled quite so far, at such expense, just to swim. The attraction was visiting China, which added two more weeks to my travels. I am, however, really looking forwards to the possibility of swimming with the Black Country n Potteries team at future European meets. Oh, one more thing I hit my hand badly on the lane rope in my first event, the 200 backstroke. Apart from a visit to the medical centre, I completely put the incident out of my mind but now, five weeks later, I am pretty certain I have a hairline fracture in my left hand.  I’m really pleased with myself, because I carried on regardless and swam 8 more events pretty well!”

From all of us at Black Country n Potteries – CONGRATULATIONS KATH!

2 thoughts on “2019 FINA World Masters Championships – Gwangju, South Korea

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