Sunday, February 12, 2012

Drag racing an 82-year-old

We did a terrible thing at North Bondi - we drag-raced an 82-year-old. It wasn't just any 82-year-old, mind you. It was John Kelso, whom we reckon is perhaps the world's best ocean swimmer. To be swimming as fast and as regular as Kelso does at his age truly is phenomenal.

Anyway, when we turned the close in booee off the Icebergs at Bondi, we stopped, took some pitchers, mooched around, shot some video, then set off back up to the finish at North Bondi. Shortly after we began swimming, we saw out of the corner of our eye, a yellow-cap hoving into view to our left and behind. No idea whom it was, but we noticed this yellow-cap was gaining on us quite easily. They also seemed to be sitting pretty close behind us, and the thought flitted across our minds that perhaps they were trying to draft on us; to heel-waft. The impertinence, we thought. No-one's ever tried to heel-waft us, with good reason. We remember at Byron Bay a few years back when our idiosyncratic cobber, Killer, boasted around the pub post-swim that someone had drafted on him. He was so proud...

Anyway, they weren't trying to draft on us, and they weren't really swimming behind us. They were minding their own business. We had no idea whom it was, but we could tell they were a bit older, slight of build, and, as they drew closer, we realised they were goggless. And we realised suddenly whom it was: John Kelso. Kelso swims pretty well every week, is one of the faster swimmers on the Sydney circuit in terms of deciles, and rarely wears goggles. We were just ambling along ourselves, at our normal cruising pace, but we thought, this was a great opportunity to watch him closely to try to discern his secret. What is it about Kelso's swimming that makes him, at 82, so fast.

Anyway, we picked up the pace a bit, and we ended up drag-racing Kelso all the way back to the final turning booee off North Bondi, where we stopped again to take pitchers. Along the way, sometimes Kelso was in front, sometimes we were in front. He wasn't racing us; and we weren't really racing him; but we were sticking with him to watch, and to learn. And it was more a case of us keeping up with him rather than swapping the lead, and when we pulled ahead momentarily, it was because we ran into a wall of breaststrokers whom we had to split to get around, or because Kelso ran into one of those North Bondi water safety laddies who sit with their rescue boards across the course, which means the peloton must split widely to get around them.

So what did we learn? Not a lot. We watched his stroke all the way along that 1km reach, particularly the underwater stuff, and there didn't seem anything particularly perfect about it. We thought he could have kept his elbows a bit higher, and his grab could be a bit more effective, and his pull through was nothing to write home about... For a bloke who carries no weight at all, he floated quite well, although his legs were down a bit. But what did strike us was that Kelso seemed relaxed. At 82 and with a wiry frame, it's hard to look relaxed, let alone be relaxed. As you get older, the body tightens. The best swimming, of course, is the slowest, most relaxed swimming. Try it yourself in a a pool. Go flat out and time yourself. Then do the same distance as slow and as relaxed as you can, and you'll probably find there's not that much difference between your times.

Kelso seemed relaxed, and maybe that's his secret. He's 24 years older than us, but he's far more relaxed.

But tell us about your swims this weekend... North Bondi, Geelong, Phillip Island, wherever...


  1. Relaxed? That's it? I knew it!

    John Kelso is a freak of nature *shakes head in wonder* One day I hope to get close to his heels but I fear that will be when I'm 82 and he's still making 2 km comfortably under 40 minutes.

    I have one word for today: Perfect in every way. (It's standard Kath and Kim, just in case...)

  2. John Kelso and North Bondi - they do what they do so well. I too have had the good fortune to swim next to John and cannot see anything extraordinary other than - he is so fast and makes it look so easy, just like all the great champions. And, thumbs up to North Bondi Surf Club, they run a slick, no hassles swim, again the conditions were near perfect.

  3. i also feel a bit chuffed if someone drafts off me - makes me dream for a short time that i'm really fast!! also have a bit of a proud smile to myself when people seem to be following me - they think i know where i'm swimming to (ha ha).

    lovely lovely swims at bondi on sunday - always a great morning

  4. Ocean swimming at N Bondi yesterday almost as good as it gets. Sweet synchronicity between a sparkling day, ruthlessly efficient arrangements and a warm and benevolent sea. Thanks to organisers, safety crew (even if sometimes hard to pick relationship of boards to course), sponsors and Huey.
    John Kelso sets a gold standard for old git tryhards.

  5. Perfect conditions and well done to North Bondi SLSC for putting on a professional event with just surf club volunteers.

    Well done to the organisers and promoters for keeping up the numbers - 933 finishers in the 2k event - more than last year. The other Sydney swims generally seem to be down on the numbers this year since they peaked 2 years ago - Cole, B2B, Northern Beaches. Perhaps rising entry fees have now reached the point where they have become price-sensitive to punters watching their entertainment dollars.

    A suggestion - Maybe just some more start waves in the NB Classic compared to the NB Roughwater. This swim was more bargie and grabby than what I expected. And squashie down the home straight as the main pack from the next wave caught me and ran me over. Maybe 10-year age groups M/F could be split into 2 start waves if there's big numbers.

  6. 16, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Looooved your article! I reckon there's alot to being relaxed! I wonder if John has any tips - whether physical, psychological/emotional? How many years has he been going? How about an interview on the website? Now that'd be great!! JP


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