Jane Asher

Jane Asher was born in Nkana, Northern Rhodesia in 1931, but grew up in South Africa, loving the water and having swimming access anytime, anywhere. She did matric at Roedean in Johannsburg, and a BA in psychology at Rhodes University. 

At the age of 22, in 1953, she moved to Britain to take a post-graduate diploma in personnel management at Manchester University. She swam on the university swim team and realized the swimming advantage she had had as a child living in South Africa. The children of Britain did not have the same access to water privileges Jane had, as during World War II and shortly before her arrival, Britain’s beaches were covered with barbed wire, and pool swimming time was at a premium.

As a world-class Masters swimmer, Jane Asher has set 75 FINA Masters World Records in the freestyle, I.M., backstroke and sprint butterfly events in the 55-59 through 70-74 age groups. She has won gold medals 30 times at FINA Masters World Championships and is the first masters swimmer to ever hold every freestyle record in her age group. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in the class of 2006.

Click here to a video of Jane in 2015


The mine swimming pool at Nkana in its heyday.

Jane Asher earned her third spot on the World Masters Swimmers of the Year list, fourth if you count a runner-up spot in 2007. She last made an appearance in 2006 after earning her first berth back in 2004.

Asher had an outlandish resume for the ballot this year, ending the competitive season with 10 short course meter and eight long course meter FINA Masters World records:

SCM: 50 free (37.67), 100 free (1:24.44), 200 free (3:01.61), 400 free (6:34.92), 50 back (46.10), 100 back (1:44.88), 200 back (3:42.88), 50 fly (45.57), 100 IM (1:42.46), 400 IM (8:07.34); LCM: 100 free (1:24.66), 200 free (3:07.40), 400 free (6:57.31), 800 free (13:51.21), 100 back (1:46.11), 200 back (3:50.64) 200 IM (3:54.07), 400 IM (8:21.88)

“Because I turned 80 this year, I planned to swim all events, but later decided to leave out the 200 fly in both long and short course,” Asher said. “I might have a go at the 200 fly next year, but it will have to be at a meet where nothing else matters! It's quite hard to find long course events, when one has to get through 17 events in about five meets.”


Jane Asher, who turned 85 last year, returns to Swimming World’s Top 12 World Masters Swimmers of the Year for the fourth time. She was first named to the list in 2004—the year the World Masters award was created—then later in 2006 and 2011.

Asher put together an outstanding swimming resumé this past season (Nov. 1, 2015 through Oct. 31, 2016), setting world records 18 times in 11 long course events and 16 times in 11 short course events.

But her records this past year weren’t the highlight of Asher’s season. Rather, it was the opportunity she had to swim with her good friend, Christine Goodair, and Asher’s two sons, Jamie and Alistair, at the European Masters Swimming Championships in London last May. They finished 13th in the 200 mixed medley relay for the 240-279 age group, and Asher was elated: “What a treat for a mother of my age!”

Asher was born in Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia) and raised in South Africa. At the age of 22, she moved to Great Britain, where she became a teacher and a coach, teaching the basics of swimming.

Since 1986 when she first set Masters world records in the women’s 55-59 age group, Asher has continued to set global standards in each age group an incredible 187 times (78 long course and 109 short course through Oct. 31, 2016)…in every stroke and distance except breaststroke.

Water way to have a good time: Jane Asher is still breaking world records at the age of 84.

She swam competitively in her early 20s, taking up coaching once a mother, but finally pursued racing across the globe after losing her husband, Robert, to colon cancer 25 years ago. It helped to fill the hole in her life and cope with the sadness of becoming a widow aged 65. In a strange way, it enabled her to become the sportswoman she is today.

“When I first started doing lots of international competitions, my family thought it was a bit odd, and I was away a lot. But now they find it so exciting. They will all try to come for the championships in London.”

Her own life story is as fascinating as her career as phenomenally successful sportswoman. Born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, she had malaria as baby. Her father, an American who served in the cavalry in the First World War, and her mother, an English ballet dancer – it is from here Asher believes she inherited her flexibility in the water – thought best to move to Johannesburg, South Africa.

At her boarding school she remembers girls were taught not to be too competitive. Her first race did not come until she was 17.

“My mother was sat right up the top, and shouted encouragement just before I was about to take my mark. I was so embarrassed and full of nervous energy that I swam faster than I ever had before and won the race. So now whenever I do backstroke I always think of my mother up above, and when I’m doing front crawl I think of my father with his hand on my shoulder. They always said I was the best.”

She studied social sciences in Rhodes, before doing a postgraduate course in Manchester, where she swam for the university. Asher then moved to Norwich, monitoring piece work in a factory, before marrying and becoming a full-time mother. Swimming fell off the radar.

Asher only got back in the water when a local school built a pool and needed an instructor. Aged 40, she was trying to encourage the pupils to enter competitions. The school were reluctant. “These were lots of kids who had failed the 11-plus exam, so the school didn’t want them to fail at something again. So I took them to a competition and entered myself. I was 40 and the girls were teenagers so they beat me, but the kids loved it. They thought it was amazing. But someone came to me and said, ‘you know there are races for grown-ups’, and it all went from there.”

Four decades later and Asher has barely lost a race, despite having both hips replaced not long after the turn of the millennium. About the only loss she can remember came to a good rival and friend in Montreal in 2013. Yet that was only because she could not hear the start because of a rock concert going on near the pool (two small hearing aids are about the only reminder of her age).


Golden Gran back to roots

14 March, 2017

GREAT Britain’s Golden Gran Jane Asher will be the headlining name taking part in this year’s South African National Masters swimming compe tition getting under way at the Joan Harrison Swimming Complex tomorrow.

However, it is a sort of home coming for Asher who was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), grew up in Johannesburg and then attended Rhodes University.

She subse quently moved to England to further her studies, where she then married and settled down.

Asher did swim in the Midmar Mile a number of years ago, but this will be her rst appearance in the South African Masters Nationals.

“I decided to come and take part be cause it’s in East London this year and my school friend lives there,” explained Asher.

At 86-years-old Asher is a world class Masters swimmer and has competed in events across the globe, setting 75 FINA Masters World Records along the way in freestyle, individual medley, backstroke and buttery sprint events across various age cate gories.

Records will however not be a priority for Asher during this weeks Masters as she will just be looking to enjoy the event.

“I just hope to swim well, I aged up last year and swam over 30 races going for records,” said Asher.

“It was very successful and I was pleased to get every one I was going for.”

“So this year I will be swimming for the pleasure of meeting old friends and making new ones.”

Asher will be the oldest fe male taking part in the SA Masters, while local Amakhosi swimmer Terry Briceland will be the oldest male, also at 86years-old.

A number of South African Masters swimmers will also be aiming for top honours.

Edith Ottermann (51) and Tim Shead (65), both from Cape Town Masters, Heather Campbell (62) from East Coast Durban and Terry Downs from Coelacanth’s Pre toria have all represented South Africa and taken part in a number of world championships and will be among the favourites in their divisions.

On the local front Amakhosi swimmers Butch Coetzee (61), Carla Mackenzie (62), Joe Hiltsrom (73) and Ronald Wallace (76) have also taken part in world championships and they will be eager to take top honours on their home turf.

The Masters gets under way at 8am tomorrow morning at the Joan Harrison, with the opening ceremony scheduled to take place from 3pm.

Jane Asher with members of the Phoenix masters swimming club at the 2018 South African Masters Championships.