While Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps were racing for medals in London on the U.S. Olympic team, swimmer Richard Knight was winning them in Olympia. Six to be exact. All gold. And breaking five records. If that wasn’t impressive enough, even more impressive is the fact that Knight, who was competing in the Senior Olympics in Washington, is 79.
Knight was himself an Olympic contender back in 1956 when he swam in the Olympic trials. As a member of the UCLA swim team, he competed as a breaststroker for two years. But during the trials, a swimmer from USC, Olympic great Bobby Hughes, edged him out of a spot on the team. He left California in 1973 and moved to live on a ranch in Montana where he and his wife, Shelley, raised a family. He went to work as high school counselor and set swimming aside.
But few years ago, a fellow teacher told him about the Senior Olympics. “I hadn’t ever heard about it,” he says. After 36 years, he jumped back into the pool and started to train. Seriously. He found “it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.” But he began entering competitions again and winning them. Every event.
To date, he’s won about 60 medals, including three bronze at the National Senior Games in Palo Alto and silver at the World Senior Games in Park City, Utah a couple years ago. His made so many waves on the scoreboard that it prompted one competitor at the National Games–where 10,000 participated– to ask him: “Where did you come from?”
His performance in last Sunday’s Senior Olympics was among his best. He trimmed an astonishing 21 seconds off the record in his age division–75 to 79 years– to win the 100 yard breaststroke. Another record fell when he cut 7 seconds off the 50 yard breast stroke. In the 25 yard backstroke, he shaved off another 2 seconds to win that event. And in the 25 yard breast stroke, he swam 20.77 seconds, to pick up yet another gold medal and record. He won a fifth gold in the 25 yard freestyle busting that record too. Trim and fit with a twinkle in his eye and a warm smile, he’s pretty modest about his incredible accomplishments. Unlike some of this year’s Olympians who will retire after this year’s London games, Richard shows no intention of stopping just yet. He’s looking forward to improving his breaststroke, to entering another competition, winning more medals and maybe busting a few more records.