It’s the oldest record still standing in the Northern Virginia Swimming League.
Over the decades, young swimmers in high-tech suits and year-round training regimens have shattered nearly all of those creaky old race times.
But no team has been able to match what the Four Amigos did that day in the Vienna Woods pool in 1963, swimming a 100-yard medley relay in 58.4 seconds, when the Beatles were playing on the radio and the big reward after the race was one of those 15-cent hamburgers at that new place, the McDonald’s.
Until now. Maybe.
They’d decided to gather again, these Four Amigos, 51 years later.
It was a pact they made a year ago, when they came back to the Vienna Woods swim club for a 50-year reunion and saw their record stood firm.
And when Roger Williams, 63, strolled onto the pool deck Saturday afternoon, it was clear they had a shot.
Williams has been living in California, where he played water polo in college, trained with Mark Spitz and worked on his tan. He’s tall, lean and muscular and still swims and wins in master’s events all over the country. He looks like a boomer Ken doll, if Mattel had made one.
He slices into the water and starts doing laps, a warmup that would kill others.
He’d been training all year for this.
“I feel 30, maybe 35 years old,” he tells me, in between laps.
Not everyone has been training for a year.
“I’ll tell you. When I started this in May, I couldn’t make it across the pool,” confessed Jim Dickson, 64, a lawyer in Bridgewater, Va., who swims the rock-star stroke — the butterfly.
Then Dickson jumps in the water and does a few, gorgeous butterfly strokes.
“He’s looking good,” said George Chinn, who was one of their coaches half a century ago.
A crowd began to gather in the stands above the pool. Wives, sisters, friends, children and grandchildren got their cameras and iPhones ready.
Then came Roger Russell, 64, the backstroker.
“He’s got the easiest stroke, he gets to breathe the whole time,” one of the Amigos said.
“Nah, he’s the one who has to swim the farthest, he starts in the pool. The rest of us get to dive,” another said.
Russell, a semi-retired audio-visual engineer in Centreville, Va., gets in the water a little later, with a little less gusto than the others.
“He’s looking good,” coach Chinn said. “Just not as limber as he used to be.”
At last, the anchor, the closer, the freestyle sprinter hits the deck. Steve Mason, 63, a contractor who lives in Haymarket, Va., ripped his shirt off to reveal a red wrestling singlet, emblazoned with the Vienna Woods swim club logo and the stats of their great, 1963 race on each thigh.
Mason unapologetically shakes his belly when he laughs, like a bowl full of jelly.
He’s got a head of white hair, a snow-white beard; he knows what you’re thinking. He turns around and sticks his rear out, so you can read the “Ho-Ho-Ho” across his bottom.
Yes, Santa is on their team.
“I’m kinda embarrassed and kinda proud,” confessed one of his granddaughters, 16-year-old Madison Poland.
Santa Mason, who does seasonal work as the jolly old elf, hammed it up for anyone who wanted to take a picture. Then he belly-flopped in the pool (“Ooow!” everyone yelled).
To keep it authentic, they went with the old-school start: “Go!”
Russell hurled himself into the water. There was screaming, cheering and yelling in the stands.
Then Williams, the Ken doll, tagged in, slicing through the pool in a tidy breaststroke. “What was my split?” he asked, as soon as he finished. “16 flat,” Chinn beamed.
Dickson took the handoff, executing a low-splash, fast butterfly, where he didn’t take a single breath across the entire length of the pool.
Next was Santa.
The granddaughters could barely watch. Glittery fingernails went up to hide their eyes.
And whoosh, into the pool he went with a clean, crisp dive and then a powerful freestyle, thick, ham hockarms pumping, like a big tug cutting through the water.
“Yeah!” he roared as he touched the wall. The crowd went wild.
“I can’t believe he did as well as he did!” said another of Santa’s granddaughters, 13-year-old Avery.
“Did we do it?” the Amigos asked.
“One Ten? Did everyone else get 1:10.04?” the coach checked with everyone who was clocking the race.
Nope. They didn’t break those 58 seconds.
They added 51 years and 12 seconds on their time. In contemporary swimming, where gold medals and careers are made on one hundredths of a second, 12 seconds is an eternity.
“Are you upset you didn’t break the record?” I asked.
“Break it? We set a new record!” Santa boomed. “I challenge any team from 50 years ago to get all their original swimmers together and re-create their race and beat our time. We set a new record!”
Here it is — not in facelifts or Porsches or trophy wives or veneers — here, this optimism of these men is what eternal youth looks and sounds like. And it’s pretty awesome.
8 To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/people/petula-dvorak.