E.A. Sports Today

Couch reaching for Worlds

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Bob Couch is one of the fastest men in the world in the water at his age. And he’s showing no signs of slowing.

The 67-year-old Anniston jeweler is headed to the World Masters Swimming Championship in Montreal where he’ll compete in five events. He’s seeded in the top 10 in all five and the top four in three.

There won’t be many people there faster, giving him the distinction of being one of the world’s fastest men of his tenure.

“Right now I guess I am,” he said humbly. “Obviously I want to place as high as I can and I’m real happy to be in that situation. Right now there are a couple guys who have moved up in my age group who are 65. To somebody who’s 25, the difference between 65 and 67 you say ‘so what?’ But at 67, it is (a difference).”

Unlike the age-group swimming that recently saw Saks’ Mikey Monday reach the YMCA Nationals, Masters swimming is open to swimmers 25 and older. They’re split into age-appropriate divisions of five-year increments.

This will be Couch’s second trip to the World Masters Championship in eight years; the other was at Stanford University in 2006. He could’ve gone to more of the biennial swimfests, but these are the two he could comfortably attend. Two years ago it was held in Italy.

This year, on the grounds of the 1976 Summer Olympics, he will swim the 100-, 200- and 800-meter freestyle and the 200- and 400-meter individual medley – but not in that order. He opens with the 800 Sunday in a heat that includes swimmers from France, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Italy and the United States that range in age from 37 to 68.

It’s a more rigorous schedule this time. At Stanford, where he was at the top end of his age group, he swam the 200 and 800 freestyle, 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley. He finished in the top 15 in all four events, with a 10th-place finish in the 400 IM his best showing.

“I had no clue how I was going to place eight years ago until I looked at the heat sheet and I performed better as I recall than my seed in almost all my events, so I was well pleased with that,” he said. “This time I’m more familiar with how they seed everything and I know a lot of guys I’m swimming against.”

He goes into this week’s meet having entered a 10:57 in the 800 freestyle, 1:05.76 in the 100, 2:25.6 in the 200, 2:51.0 in the 200 IM and 6:13.6 in the 400 IM. He typically doesn’t go for the sprints, but he opted for the 100 here over the 400 to shorten the stay; he hopes for a top-10 finish.

With nearly 6,000 athletes expected to compete in the five disciplines offered – “a lot of fast people,” Couch said — probably the toughest aspect of the festival for the swimmers is the logistics.

This meet will be staged in two pools, but the remote location is some 800 meters from the main venue and has no warm down area. Couch said one world-record holder he knows is skipping the competition because of the inconvenience.

His qualifying times give him a chance to compete for a medal, but he said it might be a stretch to expect gold in some because the No. 1 seeds in the 800 and both IMs have converted short course times underneath the respective world records.

That won’t keep him from pushing for as high a finish as he can muster.

“I want to play as high as I can,” he said. “I’m competing against myself, but also against people in my age group. I want to be everybody I can.”

Couch will be swimming under the banner of the Sarasota (Fla.) YMCA Sharks, but it’s a group of local swimmers he said were “extremely important and instrumental” in keeping him going and focused. They include Clayton Angell, Bill Wakefield, Chris Martin and Dunaway Connor.

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. He can be reached at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and followed on Twitter @easportstoday1.

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