Courtesy: Steve Thomas
In the summer of 1957, a promising 20-year-old Aussie breaststroker by the name of Tony Goodwin was keen to post a qualifying swim at the Queensland titles in his home pool of Fortitude Valley, and selection for the Australian Championships.
Unfortunately for him, the home pool advantage was the only thing he had in his favor.
Tony did not have an individual coach, nor did he have a choice of the three current distances to improve his chances. Until 1961, the 200m was the only breaststroke distance option to swimmers, and the Nationals that year were to be held in far away Perth.
Tony finished second in a solid time but the Queensland selectors only took the winner to Perth.
He recalled that the team for Nationals was only about 20 swimmers, a far cry from the present day! Bear in mind in the Olympic events in that era, there were only six individual events for the men. Three freestyle events, one of each form stroke and one 4×200 freestyle relay. In the women’s events, there were just five with two freestyle (no distance event), a form stroke, and the 4×100 freestyle relay.
As Tony was leaving the pool he was approached by a respected coach who said he had promise, inviting him to train with her going forward. But Tony had already decided he had enough of swimming, and saw little future behind the likes of Terry Gathercole, who had finished 4th in the final of the 200m breaststroke at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
As it happens the Nationals were to be held in Queensland the following year at the historic Tobruk Memorial baths in Townsville. Gathercole broke the world record, and then took gold at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Wales. So, we will never know how Tony might have performed had he taken up that coaching offer, as the young man had switched his interest to cricket!
Fast forward three decades to the late 1980s, where Tony and his wife Cush were living in Sydney with their two children Mark and Jenny who had both finished school. A friend’s chance to mention that he had been competing in the newly evolved AUSSIE Masters Swimming encouraged Tony to come down and join the Manly Club and swim a few carnivals.
His return to the pool was solid, but success was not overnight, but gradually State and National records were broken as he progressed through the age groups. But it was not until Tony started working with an age group coach, Oleg Bytchenkov that his momentum started to lift. Tony would swim in the public lane next to age groupers, and Oleg would shout out instructions to his much more senior pupil.
His first world record did not come until 2007, the year he turned seventy! Tony broke his pet event; the 200m breaststroke in February, lowering the time twice during the year and again the following year at the World Championships in Perth. He also set work records in the 100m breaststroke and the two Short Course marks by year’s end.
From that point forward, it was not about if I can, but more, by how much! He competed successfully at the World Championships in Christchurch 2002, Stanford 2006, Perth 2008, Riccione 2012, Montreal 2014, Kazan 2015, Budapest 2017, and Gwangju 2019.
As the Covid-19 lockdown set in during 2020, there was not much opportunity for swimming for two years. However, for Tony the focus was solely with his wife. Cush was diagnosed as having a degenerative muscular disease, and after 18 months passed away this year.
She had been his “rock” for 62 years, and one thing that kept him going in these difficult times was the knowledge that Cush would want for him to continue with his swimming.
Tony set his sights on competing at the 2023 World Championships in Kyushu, Japan in August, but for the first time without his wife by his side. He was touched when his son and daughter made a surprise announcement one evening they would take time off and be his support team.
Tony managed only a couple of preparation meets leading into Japan. One was held in Brisbane at the Chandler pool in June. It was at that meet that retired Olympic Champion Susie O’Neill broke the Masters world record in the 50m butterfly with much associated international publicity. However, nothing was said of the other world record set that day, by Tony Goodwin in the 200m breaststroke.
In Kyushu, Tony produced an amazing performance. He swept the three breaststroke events, setting a world record in each, an effort that is seldom achieved in the sport. Add gold in the 200-meter individual medley and silver in the 50-meter butterfly, to round out his performance.
After his success in Japan, his world record total currently stands at twenty-nine. In the nine World Swimming Championships where Tony has competed, he has collected 23 gold, 13 silver and five bronze medals.
Last week he was nominated as NSW Masters Athlete of the Year, for the fifth time, with two wins thus far.