After nearly 30 years of competing and pushing himself to get better, Brantford’s John Monne is a world champion.
With a time of 4:11.26 on Friday in Riccione, Italy, the 81-year-old Monne became the fastest 200-metre breaststroke swimmer in the world in the 80-year-old to 84-year-old category.
“It feels great,” Monne said on Tuesday after flying back from Italy. “I think I am Brantford’s first individual world champion in any sport.”
Monne, who trains almost daily at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre, also placed second in the 100-metre breaststroke and fourth in the 50-metre breaststroke at the FINA World Masters Championships.
The World Masters swimming meet is held every two years and pits the best swimmers 25 years and older against each other in five-year age brackets.
This year’s event featured 13,000 athletes vying for world titles.
Monne moved to Brantford in 1958 and turned his trade as a spring maker into his own company in 1968.
In 1984, he took up swimming as a way to get fit, but his competitive character soon drove him to challenge others.
“It became my carrot,” Monne said. “I wanted to get fit and I needed a reason to come down every day and work out. It’s too easy not to show up if you don’t have a focus. My goal became to try and beat somebody else.”
After getting into the sport, Monne soon realized he could put up competitive times.
“Over time, I picked up the odd medal here and there,” he said. “As time went on, though, I picked up more and more. Now, in this age group, I am the prime breaststroke swimmer in Canada.”
Monne connected with Brantford Aquatic Club coach Jocelyn Jay to train for this year’s World Masters Championships.
“I’ve never worked with someone of John’s experience at 81 years old,” Jay said. “For me, it was a lot of research and talking with coaches who worked with this age. I had to find out about what the recovery is so I could make sure I wasn’t beating him into the ground. Though John assured me he could take whatever I dished out.”
Monne’s five-day-per-week training regimen includes 2,500 metres in the pool, in addition to a couple of weekly afternoon sessions.
“If you include weight training, I probably do about 10 workouts per week,” he said, noting that he still goes to work everyday at his spring manufacturing company.
Back in January, Monne told Jay he wanted to become a 100-metre breaststroke swimmer who also competed in the 200-metre.
“She is sneaky, though,” Monne said with a laugh. “She turned me into a 200-metre breaststroke swimmer that also swam the 100-metre. I didn’t realize what she did until I became the champion.”
His times in Riccione in the 200-metre and 100-metre were both new Canadian records for his age group.
Monne said he is of the belief that athletes are only as good as the coaches behind them.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that when an athlete wins a medal, the coach should be given one as well,” he said as he handed his FINA World Masters silver medal to Jay. “I figured I better put my money where my mouth is.”
Monne also has high praise for staff at the Gretzky centre pool, who he said have been very accommodating during his training.
Monne said he intends to continue to train vigorously ahead of the 2014 FINA World Masters Championships, which are being held in Montreal.
He will have the chance to defend his gold medal in the same age group.
“I’m sure the competition will get stiffer,” he said. “Now I am the one they are all shooting for. The pressure is awesome, though. You don’t want to screw it up.”
Motivation to train is easy to come by for Monne.
“It’s like a lion’s cub,” he said. “They say once it tastes blood it will never want anything else. That is like me and winning. Now that I have a taste of it, it is all I want. Every time I win a race or improve my time, it motivates me to keep going and see if I can improve.”
Monne, who was born in 1931, said the oldest athlete competing at the World Masters Championships was in the 95-year-old to 99-year-old age group and was born in 1917.
The swimmer hopes his story will inspire other older people to consider getting in shape and staying active.
“I hope I inspire somebody to come out and try to beat me,” he said.