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.