Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee Member

“How long I will swim? My dear, I have an adequate answer for this. As long as I live, I swim. And as long as I swim, I live.”Few can sum up the secret of living long (perhaps forever) so precisely and shortly. While it seems easy to say, Bela Banki Horvath is the living example of how to execute it. He is 95 years old, the oldest participant of this Masters World Championships – still, yesterday was fresh to complete two events in a span of three hours, swimming in the 200m breaststroke (7:29.12) first, then in the 100m back (2:32.01), setting Championships records in both.

He took on swimming as a 15 year-old student, next season he was junior champion in Hungary. The Berlin Olympics came too early – the next two were never held so he couldn’t take part in the Games. He was close to become a national team member, but on the first occasion he lost a swim-off, then he was nominated but the administration gave a wrong passport number and he couldn’t cross the border. His last chance for a possible Olympic swim gone in the last months of the world war when he was captured and deported to the Soviet Union where he spent three painfully long years.

Still, after he returned from the ice-cold fields from the East, he went to the pool immediately, joined the water polo team in Szeged and at the age of 33 he could even make the time-standards set by the federation in swimming. That earned him a wage called ‘calories support’ for an entire year, worth of 500 Hungarian forints a month, a smaller fortune in the early 50s.

He never left the pool, swam to stay healthy. (“If you are healthy, you should swim. If you swim, you should be healthy” – this is his other motto.) He discovered the Masters movement in 1975, competed in local events – his international ‘career’ started in the beginning of the 90s, his took part in his first World Masters Championships in 1992 in Indianapolis (USA).

 


Bela Banki Horvath (GER) ©FINA Communication

 

Kazan is his 9th appearance on the world stage.

“The love for sport brings me here and to other corners of the world” he says. “Of course, it’s great to compete, to earn medals – though this is the first time that I’m alone in my age group. Still, I want to beat the clock, so my times are more important here than the medals. To set a new world record (in the 200m back on Day 1) and two more European records are satisfying.”

And practicing is still a basic part of his life. “The only thing prevents me from swimming every day is the chlorine in the water. My skin is too thin to bear it so I can swim every second day back home. Each time 800m, backstroke and freestyle.”

Funding the trips for the big events? “You know, my children taught me how to earn sponsorships. What and how to present to companies to convince them. And it worked every time” he smiles. However, this year there is no commercial activity in the background: for Kazan, the Hungarian Swimming Association “sponsored” him and his grandson as at the age of 95 some kind of aid is needed at last.

But only out of the pool. In the water the old gentleman is at home. There he can feel the gentle touch of eternity.