Contributed by Mindy Williams, NELMSC Pool Sanctions Chair
GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA — There was so much to be impressed by at the FINA World Masters Championships in Gwangju, South Korea August 5-18, 2019. The venue was spectacular, featuring a 50-meter state-of-the-art competition pool, an adjacent diving well, and two on-site warm-up pools (both 50-meter), one indoor and one outdoor. The facility, the existing natatorium for Nambu University, was renovated for the FINA World Championships and held spectator seating for close to 10,000 people. Between races, there was the option to hit up the Marketplace: a row of food trucks, beer tents and vendors just around the corner from the pool.
Many of the Masters swimmers stayed at the “Athletes’ Village” accommodations, just a 10-minute shuttle ride from the pool and a neat way to immerse oneself in the spirit of the event. The Athletes’ Village consisted of a half-dozen brand new apartment buildings housing visiting athletes from all over the world, plus a dining hall, convenience stores, a recreation room, and several offices staffed with volunteers eager to help the foreigners with their transportation and site-seeing needs. There was an entertainment venue as well, and the event organizers had a nice menu of South Korean artistic performances for their visitors to enjoy each night. And to quench the thirst of all the accomplished Masters swimmers, there was a “vivid beer party” each night at the dining facility—simply a few taps of tasty Korean brews.
With just over 4,000 participating athletes, the impressive element of having 3,000+ attentive volunteers was very noticeable. There were smiling, welcoming faces at every turn, eager to help the athletes find their way and make their visit to Gwangju a memorable one. Like any World Championship, having the common ground of sports and health was an easy way to make new international friends. I found myself in the ready room before races with swimmers from all over the world who were friendly, chatty, and all the while focused on the races that loomed. After a few days of racing, the faces behind the blocks became more and more familiar, and contact info, swim caps, and selfies started to be exchanged with ease!
There was wonderful camaraderie among the New England swimmers as well. We enjoyed many meals together and donned our Team USA t-shirts each morning at breakfast and onto the podium. We enjoyed cheering for one another and sharing stories of interesting travel and excursions. There was no lull in entertaining anecdotes about visiting South Korea. Training for Fukuota 2021 will commence as soon as the 13-hour jetlag subsides!