So here we are again, at Lake Balaton, site of many FINA open water events – including the biggest one, staged three weeks ago. The World Championships were a hit in Balatonfured.

The city is the liveliest among all around the big lake but it seemed to be the centre of the world, besides the grandstands the harbour was also packed with people following the races. And the feeling was back on Day 4 of the FINA Masters World Championships.

Though not all the seats were occupied on the tribune on the opening day of the open water swimming event, still, many followed the action on the giant screens as the pictures of the quality live streaming were put on show.

Holiday-makers usually stopped to have a look or two. There are plenty of them as Balatonfured is the top resort at the lake, we have another hot week now and to the top of it, this is the time for the annual Wine Week. Quality wines for tasting (and purchase…) combined with open water swimming action – do you need any more?

Not really.

And the racing environment was very much the same what had been created for the pros at the ‘big’ Worlds. Of course, safety measures were enhanced as the first session saw hundreds of participants aged over 50.

The oldest was born before World War II broke out… With another heat wave hitting the region – during the competition temperatures reached 38 degrees, the water was 25-26C – many feared to see swimmers being unable to finish the course… But something else happened. When the oldest ones touched in, 85-88 years old, covering the 3km in less than 1:27hrs, even members of the medical staff were amazed.

Especially when the old ladies and gentlemen arrived to the ladders in the finish area.

The docs offered a helping hand… These fine veterans shook the hand, accepted the congratulations, then… “I’m fine, thank you” – and none of them wanted being helped out. One by one, they climbed out on their own.

As if it had been a heresy for not being able to do the last couple of steps out of the water. They are proud and strong swimmers.

The chief medical officer just smiled. “I’ve never seen such vitality in such old people. Swimming can do miracle with the body and the soul.”

It does, no doubt. Out of almost 500 swimmers, only two had to be taken out during the race. Again: men and women, well into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. All but two completed the course.

Some stayed on the pontoon and discussed the race immediately.

“I missed the direction as I followed the kayak and didn’t recognise the buoy…”

“It’s my luck, you are the better swimmer but I found the shorter route…”

Then a couple of sentences which would be fitting to a veteran club during an afternoon tea…

“You know, I have glasses of 3.5 dioptres, without them I could barely see even the big yellow buoys…”

But even if they are veterans, they passed those buoys and swam 3km. In the meantime, the scuba diver safeguarding the finish area was approaching a competitor who grabbed the side of the pontoon with heavy breathing… The dialog couldn’t have been any better…

“May I help you?”

“Thanks, no, just swallowed water.”

“I can escort you out…”

“No way, now I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Definitely. But can you tell me how do you say in Hungarian ‘thank you’?”

“It’s ‘Köszönöm’.”

“OK, young man, köszönöm. Pleased to learn this phrase in Hungarian.”

And he also climbed out on his own. Another one asked about the time and the place of the victory ceremony. While sharing the info with him, I discovered an unmistakable mark of a huge cut on the chest. Memento of a heart surgery. Still, he was here and concluded a great swim of 3,000m. And preparing – as many others – for next week’s races in the pool. Brilliant examples for how swimming makes people’s life much healthier.

Themselves much better men and women.

They didn’t come for the result. They came for having a good time, to better themselves, to satisfy their will to show they were still capable of making it. They made it, again.

The victory ceremony was a real fiesta. Standing ovation for the oldest ones, storms of applause for all medallists.

The organisers paid tribute to these great athletes. Besides the high-ranked FINA representatives, Bureau Liaison Dr Mohamed Diop, Masters Committee Chairman Ed Evelly and Vice-Chairman Mel Goldstein, the city Mayor Istvan Boka and senior Government member Karoly Kondrat handed over the medals and diplomas, to mark the importance of the occasion.

And all this happened on the big stage of an outdoor theatre next to the venue.

To emphasise: the Masters deserve the highest appreciation.

Gergely Csurka FINA Media Committee