The Curious Case of Brazilian Swimmers

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of SwimSwam magazine. Subscribe here.

Amazonian legend says that an indigenous couple from the Sateré-Mawé tribe wanted very much to have a child. Therefore, one day, they decided to ask Tupan, the king of the gods, for a child. At that sincere request, Tupan gave them a boy.

The couple’s son grew up healthy and became a handsome young man. However, all the goodness and generosity of the little Indian threatened Jurupari, the deity of the wicked. Envying the young man, Jurupari became a venomous snake and stung the young man, killing him.

Soon Tupan sent thunder and lightning near the village announcing the good boy’s death. When the mother of the dead boy found his body, Tupan told her to bury her son’s body in the ground near the village and cry upon his grave for four days. So, in the place where he was buried, a new kind of plant started to grow there, called guarana.

Guarana is one of the ingredients that make up the diversified and delicious Brazilian identity. Guarana’s beneficial properties are multiple and certified and are thought to be a long-life elixir. Looking at the Brazilian swimming team, you would think that most of those athletes fell into a cauldron full of guarana.

In Tokyo 2020, Bruno Fratus became the oldest pool swimmer in history to win his first Olympic medal when he took the bronze at the age of 32 and 32 days, in the 50 free, after Dressel and Manaudou. Almost one year after this achievement, Fratus earned another big goal. With a time of 21.61, he reached the milestone of swimming sub 22 seconds in the 50 free LCM 100 times.

The Brazilian curse is not just a male thing. If we consider pool and open water events, another Brazilian swimmer appears in this special chart. Poliana Okimoto is the oldest female swimmer in history to win her first Olympic medal when she took the silver in the 10 km race in Rio 2016 at age 33.

Looking at the World Championships history, both long and short course, among the top five of the oldest swimmers who won a medal there are Brazilian.

Joao Gomes Junior is the fifth-oldest swimmer to win a medal at the FINA World Championships. He won the bronze medal in the 50 breaststroke at 33 years, 184 days in Gwangju 2019. In the same race, Felipe Lima won the silver medal becoming the third-oldest in history at 34 years, 110 days. Lima is also fourth on this chart if we consider short course championships and Joao Gomes Junior is third. Both of these athletes are still active.

32, 33, 34. These are numbers that prove Brazilian longevity, and we can add other names like Guilherme Guido who smashed records at ISL last season at age 34. But there is one swimmer definitely changing all the rules in swimming history.

Nicholas Santos became the oldest swimmer to win a medal at World Aquatics Championships in 2017 when he was 37. Then he improved his record when he won a medal in 2019 at 39 years of age, and again in 2022 at 42, when he became the only swimmer over age 40 to win a medal at World Aquatics Championships.

While different young athletes are retiring from competitive swimming, and against the idea that the peak of performance occurs between the ages of 25 and 30, Brazilian swimmers are proving that even after 30 you can be the best athlete you have ever been.

It could be the guarana elixir, or it could be the mood and love of life in which Brazilian people live, we don’t know. But like Brazil Seleção is telling everybody: it’s never too late.

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Im back
3 months ago

Brazil has an actual professional swimming system, where swimmers get paid quite well and offered a whole infrastructure to invest in their careers.

3 months ago


3 months ago

Hate to be that guy but when PEDs are legal in the country and your government has been known to systematically help athletes avoid WADA/USADA is there any doubts? I don’t want to take away from the hardwork that these athletes put in, but obviously this is a factor

Flippin Birds
3 months ago

What a random and strange article.

Santos is truly an outlier. But the author makes it seem like swimmers who win medals in their early to mid 30s is somehow unique to Brazil, then then reaches for some vague, dopey correlation to… guaraná?

Off the top of my head Ervin won gold at 34 in Rio, Phelps was 31 that year, Popov won a world championship at 32 in Barcelona, Brent Hayden was finaling at almost 40, Dara Torres medaled at 40 etc…

The whole thing is a stretch…

3 months ago

Santos shows that if Phelps or Murphy really wanted to swim in LA they probably could

Mr Piano
Reply to  Meathead
3 months ago
  1. Phelps doesn’t swim 50s like Santos does
  2. Phelps has never tested positive for furosemide like Santos has.
Memma Eckeon
3 months ago

Maybe the furesemid scandal in 2011 and the towel scandal from 2019 have something to do it…

Apart from that its obvious that careers are getting longer because there is more money (because of the Phelps effect) and science evolution

Reply to  Memma Eckeon
3 months ago

Seriously…. Going to write an article about how long Brazilian sprinters are swimming without at least mentioning that many have a doping infraction.

Up next: “Lance Armstrong had a great career. How did he do it?”

Mr Piano
Reply to  Rap
3 months ago

I feel like it’s gaslighting at this point. More often than not when we see older and older players or competitors in sports that play like it’s too good to be true, they’re doping. Hell, Santos is name-dropped as an example in the article without mention of the fact that he was involved in a scandal.

Uninformed Towel
Reply to  Memma Eckeon
3 months ago

towel scandal from 2019?

Reply to  Uninformed Towel
3 months ago

The 100 free guy…actually there are 2 100 free guys that tested positive by now. But one of them was a regular on the brazilian relays. He tested positive “because he used his brother’s towel that had the substance in a shaving cream”. He suspended 8 months or something like that. Dont remember his name

3 months ago

Swimmers in Brazil have a lot of funding. QAmong the best in the world. They a lot of professional swimmers. Most countries dont. They have the money incentive to keep swimming and keep improving. Even though they ask for more money (and they deserve that for sure) they have unique conditions there with some clubs paying enough to make a living from the sport.

Reply to  GrameziPT
3 months ago

Why do they deserve more money, its a sport thats not producing much revenue for anyone

Reply to  mcswammerstein
3 months ago

Then lets end all Olympic sports expect for basketball

3 months ago
Reply to  Corey
3 months ago

It does in fact ban Guarana as a stimulant. I would think you might want to note that in article.

About Aglaia Pezzato

Aglaia Pezzato

Cresce a Padova e dintorni dove inizialmente porta avanti le sue due passioni, la danza classica e il nuoto, preferendo poi quest’ultimo. Azzurrina dal 2007 al 2010 rappresenta l’Italia con la nazionale giovanile in diverse manifestazioni internazionali fino allo stop forzato per due delicati interventi chirurgici. 2014 Nel 2014 fa il suo esordio …

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