FLASHBACK: Swim Jim defies age for one last dip

82-year-old Jimmy Devlin at the foot of the front page on May 30th, 1964.
82-year-old Jimmy Devlin at the foot of the front page on May 30th, 1964.

AGE can generally obstruct an individuals enjoyment or participation of a sport.

Few have defied the hurdle of maturity, with the majority falling victim to a restriction in mobility. But there have been exceptions.

George Foreman regained the Heavyweight Championship at the age of 45 when knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994, Kevin Poole was the oldest player in the Football League at the age of 48 before announcing his retirement in the culmination to the 2011/12 campaign, Dexter ‘Dingo’ Duckworth was believed to be the world’s oldest professional boxer at the age of 53 while Tom Watson lost the 2009 Open Championship on a play-off aged 59.

Some have pushed the barriers even further, driving forward with unrivalled intrepidity and fortitude. Neville Wilson was reportedly Australia’s most senior professional jockey at 61, John MaGowan became the oldest darts player to register a nine-dart finish at 68 and Oscar Swahn, a Swedish shooter, competed in the 1920 summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, aged 72.

However, though it wasn’t a competitive return, one inspirational man from Burnley proved that age is no object to ambition. Mr Jimmy Devlin, a former borough swimming champion, returned to the pool where he showcased that he could still float like a butterfly and swim like a bream at the age of 81.

Devlin claimed to be the fastest swimmer Burnley had in the days when swimmers turned up with “bowed legs and knock-knees”. That era was 1905 to 1907 when Devlin, a tailor by trade, became the borough champion and finished third in the English breaststroke championships.

He took to the water, at the formerly named Central Baths, along with 30 fascinated and marvelling youngsters as well as 95-year-old friend Tommy Sharp. As the article featured on the front page of the Burnley Express on May 30th, 1964, Jimmy celebrated his 82nd birthday.

In 1899 he joined Burnley Swimming Club and that year came second in the borough championship. A year later he beat the winner at Accrington. He held second place in the town from then until 1906, when he won the borough championship.

Jimmy was one of the first to adopt the American crawl when it was introduced on these shores, and his speed for 80 yards was 47 seconds. He could do 40 yards in 24 seconds with his ankles tied.

At the time Jimmy, known as a ‘good plunger’, told an express reporter about swimmers in the ‘60s: “They’re much faster and they know more. They’ve got more chance altogether. Even the figures of swimmers are better now. In the old days they had anything from bowed legs to knock-knees.”