The 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 2021 in Abu Dhabi will be remembered for so many historic firsts, from the highest number of countries on the podium (28) at a FINA World Championships (25m) to the introduction of the first-ever FINA World Aquatics Festival.
On the fifth day of the championships, Nicholas Santos (BRA) made history that absolutely resonated with sporting fans, especially those a little later on in life. The Brazilian, who started swimming at just three years old, now 41, set a new world record as the oldest swimmer ever to win a world championship title - a record he already held from the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 2018 in Hangzhou, China.
To break his own record in Abu Dhabi, in the Men’s 50 Butterfly, Santos out-touched Trinidad and Tobago's Dylan Carter (26-years-old) by 0.05sec. He outlasted 30-year-old Matteo Rivolta of Italy by 0.09, while fellow world record holder Szebasztian Szabo of Hungary, aged 25, was 0.12sec adrift.
By coming out on top against athletes nearly half his age, Santos demonstrated how he still has plenty to offer. “It’s amazing to be a three-time world champion,” said Santos.
“For me, it’s such a challenge to be here at 41-years-old. The others are pretty fast, going 21.9s but here, competing in a world championship final is such a pressure that it might have an effect. I did it a lot of times, so I didn’t feel that pressure quite like the younger ones. So, this is awesome to win again, and recently I even had a couple of tries to break my world record and I got close.”
After breaking his own record in Abu Dhabi, Santos underlined how he still has a deep desire to continue racing.
“For me, it’s not that tough, at least now, as I only train from Monday till Friday,” he said. “It’s not that hard as for the other ones who even push the Saturdays and do double practices. I have my own company. I have to work. I have also a son to take care of so I’m changing my life now; I’m really doing a transition to have my next career.
"I have a club, we built a professional team. We managed to land a sponsorship deal last week so I’m learning how to do business, too. But at the same time, the competition still gives me great feelings. I simply love races; I still cannot live without them.”
Santos remains a huge inspiration to the next generation of not only Brazilian swimmers, but the aquatics community internationally by continuing to break barriers, make history and prove that age is just a number.