Portrait of a Grand Master – Gail Roper

Gail Roper, a 1952 Olympian and Masters pioneer, looks at her swimming as an art. “When I’m in a race, I’m trying to paint the perfect picture, with the perfect start, the perfect turn and the perfect everything-in-between.

Gail Roper (born in 1929) had just returned home from the USMS Short Course Nationals in Tempe, Ariz. Over a long, hot weekend probably more conducive to inner tube lounging than day-in and day-out of all-out swimming, the 87-year-old legend swam in four different events. To the surprise of no one, she touched the wall first in each.

This, in and of itself, is probably the greatest barometer of Roper’s dominance. Whenever she’s in the competition pool, it’s rarely a question of if she will win. Instead, the focus shifts to her margin of victory and whether or not she will approach any national or world standards.

On this occasion, there were no new records. She did, however, once again prove herself to be the class of her age group. In the 400 yard IM, she outdistanced her nearest competitor by over 36 seconds. In the 100 fly and 100 IM, it was by 11 and 7 seconds, respectively. And in the most miniature of all events, the 50 freestyle, she beat the runner-up by an astonishing 5.55 seconds.

Swimming at the Center of the Universe

Sometimes the basic assumptions we apply in pursuit of a goal get in the way of success.

Take astronomy. At one time in history, astronomers studied the way the planets revolved around the Earth in an attempt to create an accurate calendar.

But for centuries, it had been slightly off, every 100 years or so it would snow in July and the Pope would say, “Crank the calendar back six months.”

July would become January and the calendar would be correct again. But this put a real crimp in people’s vacation schedules and a better calendar had to be formulated.

Hence, astronomers enjoyed gainful employment.

The problem was that astronomers were laboring under a false model. The very definition of an astronomer’s job, one who studies the way the planets revolve around the Earth in order to create the perfect calendar, precluded them from finding the right answer.

Stealth Swimming


Runners who value no-impact training, triathletes prepping for that open-water mile and fitness swimmers angling to score some aerobic points may tell you that swimming fast isn’t a high priority.

But, in any of them, there probably lurks a childhood memory of, “Race you to the other end of the pool!” Jump in and churn 25 yards all out, arms and legs flailing, one length, no strategy, no breath left at the end. And, not likely to teach you much about how the world’s best swimmers manufacture speed.

The best sprinter I ever coached earned top-10 world ranking in the 50-meter freestyle for three years running. He was indisputably good at swimming fast, but was equally impressive at swimming quietly.

He usually started practice with at least 800 meters of languid freestyle_beautiful and graceful. Later in the practice, as he approached race pace, my stopwatch was the only thing that told me he was going faster. You couldn’t tell by watching how adept he was at following one of my pet coaching dictums: “Go fast, but hide the effort.”

Freestyle Relay Starts

First of all, let me preface this article with a word of caution. Doing any kind of start requires a certain amount of skill. There are many shallow pools around the world that are used for competition.

Do not use any kind of starting technique that requires the swimmer to enter the water at a sharp angle unless the water is sufficiently deep to do so.


The freestyle relay start is that start used by the second, third, or fourth swimmers in the relay. In order to generate the most power in a relay start, always use the wind-up start. Never use a grab start on a relay.

The wind-up of the arm swing propels the swimmer out and over the water with much more power than the grab start. A wind-up on the grab start is not recommended because it takes too long for the arms to begin rotating, but in a relay we are able to anticipate and time the arm swing with more effectiveness.

The arms should be extended in front of the swimmer on the block. Then, as the incoming swimmer comes to the wall, the arms will swing “up” and “out” in a small circular rotation.

Amanda Beard: Fly-to-Breast Kick Drill

Amanda Beard, who took the world by storm as the adorable 14-year-old who won one relay gold and two individual silver medals at the 1996 Olympic Games, has had a roller coaster ride since.

After several frustrating years as she adjusted to her maturing body, Amanda has steadily made her way back among the world’s elite, culminating in a world record-tying performance in the 200 meter breaststroke at this summer’s World Championships in Barcelona.

Amanda was Swimming World’s selection as its Female American Swimmer of the Year for 2003.

My Favorite Drill: The Fly to Breast Kick Drill

At 14, Amanda Beard was the “baby” of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. But she was a fast baby, setting an American record in the 100 meter breaststroke (1:08.09) at the Olympic Trials, then going on to win gold in the medley relay and silver in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke at the Atlanta Games.

The A.B.C.’s of Abs


abs_n. Pl. Abbreviation for abdominal muscles or movements; common slang used by athletes (espec. swimmers) describing anatomical features relative to the torso. ie: “He has abs of steel!”; the daily abdominal routine. Eg: “You should do abs every day;” covetous term for the defined washboard stomach. E.g: “Great abs!” antonyms incl. (Slang) “gut,” “spare tire,” “love handle” and “beer belly.”

Abdominal strength is essential to fast swimming. Strong abs allow the swimmer to step-up and control proper body position, leading ultimately to more efficient swimming. Abs also contribute to faster starts and turns.

Unfortunately, abs are typically overlooked (and avoided) by Masters swimmers. Because Masters swimmers frequently focus on propulsion (arms & legs), abs are forgotten_and because ab routines are often painful and boring, they are avoided.

The following “Great Abdominal Exercises” are part of a daily routine designed to help swimmers work their abdominal muscles with a variety of movements. This variety contributes to each muscle group and helps keep the daily routine interesting.


What is a Coaching Program

A career in coaching offers many challenging and rewarding opportunities. today, an increasing number of community-level sports demand that their coaches be fully trained and certified professionals.

If you want the qualifications to be a professional coach at the community-sport level, the Coaching Diploma Program at Douglas College is the ideal place to start.

The program will train and prepare you for a career in club coaching, and provides a link with university degree programs in Physical Education and Coaching, and the National Coaching Institute at the University of Victoria.

Students will be eligible to receive NCCP Level III Theory through the program, but students will be required to gain the NCCP Technical certification outside the program. you will graduate with a wide variety of skills including the ability to organize and promote club-level activities.