FOUR years after calling time on her competitive days, Zimbabwe’s swimming icon Kirsty Coventry’s exploits in the pool continue to follow her after she was named the African Female Swimmer of the Millennium by Swimming World.
Her achievements remain an inspiration to many.
According to Swimming World Magazine, after the cancellation of most important competitions of the year due to the Covid-19 scourge, Swimming World, powered by the International Swimming Hall of Fame, decided to name the Swimmers of the Millennium for the first 20 years (2000-2019) of the 2000s instead of the usual Swimmer of the Year selections for 2020.
They indicated that there was not enough data to legitimately honour individuals as World, American, European, Pacific Rim and African Swimmers of the Year due to the disruption of events by the pandemic.
Coventry was then named as the African Female Swimmer of the Millennium ahead of Egypt’s Farida Osman and Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa.
For men, it was South Africa’s Chad Le Clos. Another South Africa Cameron van der Burgh was second and Ous Mellouli of Tunisia was third.
Seasoned swimming coach Kathy Lobby, who interacted with Coventry during her career as an athlete, said it’s a deserved recognition.
“Fantastic news and well deserved.
“It has been a pleasure working with her during her career from managing and being her team coach at junior levels through to managing her at the Olympics. She was always dedicated and focused and knew what she wanted,” said Lobb.
Lobb, who is also the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee vice-president, believes Coventry’s selection as the African Female Swimmer of the Millennium by Swimming World Magazine will also inspire upcoming swimmers.
“Definitely this recognition will inspire the younger swimmers with their dreams. She is an idol to lots of them and anything she does or achieves will influence them in some way.
“There is always the hope we will have another Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe. But the swimmers need to realise it will only come with hard work and sacrifices over a long period of time .There are no quick fixes. A favourite phrase that will always apply is ‘No Pain, No Gain.”
Coventry made her debut at the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, and although she did not win a medal, there was something special about her as she became the country’s first swimmer to reach the semi-finals at the Olympics.
The appearance at the 2000 Olympics was just the beginning of a glittering sporting career for Zimbabwe’s and Africa’s top Olympian.
She returned to the world’s largest sporting showpiece in 2004 where she won three medals, including a gold in the 200m backstroke. She got silver in the 100m backstroke and bronze in 200m individual medley.
It was the biggest achievement by any local sportsperson at the Olympics, adding three more medals for the country whose first medal at the Games was a gold won by the women’s field hockey team in 1980 in Moscow, Russia.
It was also one of the best individual performances in Olympic swimming history as well as African history.
After Coventry’s stunning performance in Athens, she wasn’t done. In fact, she wasn’t even at the mid-point of her Olympic career, which would span an amazing five Olympiads!
Four years down the line, Coventry stood out for Zimbabwe again, claiming four medals — one gold and three silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
She defended her gold in 200m backstroke. The three silver medals came from 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley and 100m backstroke to take her tally to seven at the Olympics.
Her exploits in the pool earned the country international recognition and brought joy for the nation and remains one of the best sportsperson to emerge from this country.
Her last Olympics were in 2016 in Brazil. In 2012 she was part of Team Zimbabwe at the London Games.
It was not just at the Olympics that she came out among the top but also at the World Championships and African Games where she represented the country with exception.
At the World Championships, she won gold medals in 2005 in 100m and 200m backstroke. She again got gold in 200m at the 2009 championships.
In 2005, Coventry got silver in 200m and 400m individual medley. It was the same story in 2007, walking away with a silver medal in the 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley as well as in 2009 in the 400m individual medley.
For the World Cups, in 2010 she won silver in 200m individual medley and bronze in 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley.
At continental level, in 2015 at the African Games in Brazzaville, she swam her way to gold medals in 200m backstroke, 200m individual medley and 100m backstroke.
Coventry remains involved with the International Olympic Committee. The swimming icon was in 2017 elected one of the two Zimbabwe Olympic Committee vice-presidents. She later relinquished the post after her appointment as the Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
She was recently inducted in the African Union Sport Council Region Five’s Hall of Fame.
TOP THREE AFRICAN FEMALE SWIMMERS OF THE MILLENNIUM
1. KIRSTY COVENTRY, Zimbabwe
2. Farida Osman, Egypt
3. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa
TOP THREE AFRICAN MALE SWIMMERS OF THE MILLENNIUM
1. CHAD LE CLOS, South Africa
2. Cameron van der Burgh, South Africa
3. Ous Mellouli, Tunisia