Would it be hyperbole to call 60-year old Laura Val’s performance at a Master’s meet in San Francisco last weekend the greatest swim we’ve ever seen? Is it greater than any all of Phelps’ 8 Beijing gold medals? Is it greater than Lezak’s 400 free relay anchor in that same meet? Is it even the best “mile” swim ever, when compared to Chris Thompson’s 1650 NCAA’s in 2001 and Grant Hackett’s 1500 from later that year at the World Championships in Japan?
I would answer all of these questions with an emphatic “yes”. Laura Val’s 1500m freestyle was the greatest swim ever.
Val, who is a veritable superstar in the world of Masters swimming, just aged up into the 60-64 division of Masters Swimming. Unlike in summer league and age group swimming, aging up is usually seen as a positive and a performance boost for elite masters swimmers, and this swimmer took advantage of her first event in the over 60 group to do something that might never be matched. In one race, she set six World Records. That’s not a misprint. Not in one meet. In one race.
The swimmer already holds all of the short course meter freestyle World Records in the 55-59 age group, and now has done the same after only 3 weeks in the 60-64 age group. En route to winning the women’s 1500, Val set the age group, all-time best marks in the: 50m free (29.89 Charlotte Davis-30.01), 100m free (1:05.16 Davis-1:06.58), 200m free (2:24.19 Conny Boer-Buys-2:31.69), 400m free (5:02.65, Barbara Dunbar-5:22.47), 800m free (10:21.68-Dunbar 10:58.58), and 1500m free (19:38.63 Dunbar-20:46.82). Consider the marks from 200 and on. She obliterated World Records, some by 20 seconds or more, as the first part of a 1500m swim. The monstrousness of this accomplishment boggles the mind. It’s inconceivable that someone could swim this much faster than anyone in their age group has ever done before, and not even in a rubber suit.