99-Year-Old Willard “Wink” Lamb on Setting 1500 Free Masters World Record (VIDEO)

Reported by Sophie Kaufman.

When 99-year old Willard Lamb was born, only two men had ever set the World Record in the 1500 free: Henry Taylor at the 1908 Olympics and George Hodgson at the 1912 Olympics.

Now, Lamb has written his own name into the record book in the event. Since he ages up this year, he competes in the 100-104 age bracket. At USMS Summer Nationals, Lamb took on the 1500 free, clocking 42:27.06 to set a world record and U.S. Masters Swimming record. As of May 31, 2022, FINA had no record ratified for Lamb’s age group, meaning that this is the first recorded swim ever by a man his age.

He set multiple records during the race, including USMS records in the 50 and 100 freestyle. His splits at the 200, 400, and 800 are new world and USMS records. Even though they took came during a longer race, they can still be ratified as official records since they’re timed from his start.

This isn’t Lamb’s first record, though. That came in 1940, when he broke the Washington 220-yard freestyle record as a senior at R.A Long High School. In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Lamb said it was that record that made the University of Washington head coach approach him about joining the Huskies’ swim team. Lamb was undefeated in his first semester, but that first semester was his last, as he was drafted into service for the ongoing World War II.

At 83, Lamb returned to the pool and picked up right where he left off. He currently owns eight world records in the 95-99 age group: the 50/100/200/400/800/1500 freestyle, plus the 100 and 200 backstroke. In his new age group, he owns the 200/400/800 freestyle records and the 100 and 200 backstrokes. He has even more USMS records in both those age groups, and was inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2019.

In January, at the Bellevue Club Masters Mile, Lamb also set the first recorded FINA world records in the 400, 800, and 1500 short course meter freestyles for his age group. In the SCM 1500 free, he went 38:32.90. Below is video of him starting one of his races at the meet, courtesy of SPLASHForward. 

Perhaps the wildest part of his long-course world record though, is that Lamb’s made up entry time was within three seconds off his swim. Lamb had never swum the race before in that age group, so he entered himself with a 42:30.00 seed time.

For the rest of the meet, he’ll take on much shorter races. He’s entered in the 50 free, 100 free, 50 back, 100 back, and 200 back.

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1 month ago

Lamb was undefeated in his first semester, but that first semester was his last, as he was drafted into service for the ongoing World War II.

That is some real stuff right there. Crazy to remember what some in that generation had to go through.

1 month ago

Just so cool and inspiring!

I had the opportunity to swim at Masters Nationals in 2021 with my 81 year old father in his first meet since childhood. His first race in about 70 years was a 200 long course backstroke!

Masters Nationals is the best! So meaningful to still be able to create great sports memories together at this point in life.

Keep breaking records and winning those 1st place medals, Wink!

Reply to  Brian
1 month ago

Yup. 100%. My dad and I swam in a relay at masters nationals in FTL many many moons ago. We also did the Miami Mile open water swim together.

1 month ago

42:27 for 1500 Long Course is a legit swim, the fact that Willard just turned 100 is a bonus. Watching him and other Masters swimmers last week was a joy and an privilege. Everyone in the meet had a story, the older the swimmer the richer the stories. No matter the swim the mantra in the building was always “did you have fun?”

1 month ago

Way to go Willard! It was fun seeing you compete =)

1 month ago

American hero

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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