Gertrude Abraham of Arlington, ranked among the top 10 swimmers nationally in three events and the state record holder in the 50-meter backstroke, was wet and discouraged. She stood in a puddle beside the University of Richmond pool yesterday, about to see her Olympic record shattered by a small, bouncy younger woman from Richmond.
The younger woman was 70 years old.
But Abraham, 73, competing in her fifth Virginia Golden Olympics, spoke generously of the "young ones who are coming along," like the new backstroke champion, Marie Kelleher, who just turned 70 and knocked more than 3 seconds off Abraham's backstroke time for women aged 70 to 75.
The opening day of the state's three-day Golden Olympics was a good one, however, for Abraham's husband, Albert, 72, and numerous other Northern Virginia residents among the 650 competitors in this year's Golden Olympics.
Edward Gloyd, 64, of Springfield, won not only the men's 50-meter freestyle swimming for his age group but also the open riflery (BB) competition, while Alexandria women dominated the softball throw for women between ages 55 and 64.
"You know why I'm doing this," asked ex-CIA employe Carroll Delaney, 68, of Lake Barcroft, who was still panting from posting the second-best time among all men in the backstroke--45 seconds for 50 meters. "Because I'm afraid if I stop I'll fall over. I do it to stay fit," he said.
That philosophy is what started the Golden Olympics and caused it to spread to more than a dozen states in the last few years, including Maryland.
"It's the senior version of the Senior Olympics, which is for those over 25," said Virginia Shepherd, an employe of the Virginia Commission on Outdoor Recreation, which is sponsoring the Golden Olympics here along with Blue Cross-Blue Shield.
It is as much a social as sporting event, featuring dancers as well as dancing competition (in the tango, waltz and jitterbug) and more traditional pursuits of the elderly like bridge, canasta, checkers, chess, horseshoes and croquet.
But the major emphasis is on physical activity and fitness. There is competition in tennis (court and table), racquetball, golf, bicycling, badminton and regular track events. The swimming and track events--sprints, hurdles and mile run, shotput, and more--are all watched over by the cardiac unit of a Richmond rescue squad, just in case. Last year, the squad took several competitors to the city's emergency ward for observation.
"We only began serious competition after we retired," says Albert Abraham, who contends he and his wife are busier now than when they were working. He was a statistician for the Department of the Army and she was a nurse and deputy administrator in the Veterans Administration.
Abraham plays tennis every morning and he and his wife both swim at least a mile five days a week. They go square-dancing and round-dancing two nights a week, and he makes furniture and she makes clothes in their leisure time. "She has made me about 10 sport coats," Abraham said of his wife.
While the Golden Olympics attracts many who have never competed in national or international sports, like Falls Church Comptroller Claude Wells, who is in his mid-70s and running in every track event today, it also brings out some elderly jocks who can remember the real Olympics.
Swimming in three events yesterday was Julius Bruckner of Richmond, now 76, who swam in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He easily won yesterday's men's backstroke for his age group, but says, "When I represented Austria in the Olympics, in the 200-meter breast stroke, I didn't do so well."
The Abrahams, like most of the swimming competitors yesterday, fairly sprang from the water when they finished swimming.
Abraham had just won the breast stroke and achieved his best time ever in the event, while his wife knocked a second off her backstroke time in losing to the newcomer from Richmond.
"I guess I don't have enough brains to realize I'm 72 years old," said Abraham, who is now planning a trip with his wife to China. They have also been to Japan, India, Nepal, Europe and the Caribbean.