The 2012 Olympics: Kirsty Coventry
by Dexter Padayachee
Zimbabwean swimmer, Kirsty Coventry, 28, is one of the more promising medal competitors at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Coventry made her international debut at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, which brought her attention at the age of 16. She was the first Zimbabwean swimmer to reach the semifinals at the Olympics, and was subsequently named Zimbabwe’s Sports Woman of the Year.
Upon completing her secondary school education at the Dominican Convent High School in Harare, Zimbabwe, Coventry was awarded a scholarship to Auburn University in Alabama. There, she completed her degree in bospitality, with a minor in Business over the course of five years. She continued to swim competitively for the Auburn University swim team, and captained the team for the 2004-05 academic year. Coventry’s performance as a part of the three-time national championship team (2002, 2003, 2004) won her various accolades in America. She was named the NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year (2005), the SEC Female Swimmer of the Year (2004, 2005), and was awarded the National Honda Award for Swimming (2005). She has also won seven NCAA titles and fourteen SEC titles (2001-2005).
Coventry’s gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley (IM), at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, commenced her international medal-winning career. She currently has 34 international medals to her name, and is the world-record holder in the 200m backstroke after winning gold at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, Italy. Coventry has been recognized for her outstanding performance in her home country, Zimbabwe, as well as through the African continent. After winning one gold medal and three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, President Robert Mugabe awarded the swimmer US$100,000, a portion of which was donated to charity.
However, Coventry has been the recipient of criticism from various sources due to her “Switzerland” stance on politics in Zimbabwe. She has been questioned about her decision to not condemn President Mugabe and about her neutrality within Zimbabwean politics. She believes that a neutral position would benefit her in the long run, as she plans to return to the continent and help her fellow countrymen and women.
Although a promising medal winner in the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Coventry is aware of her younger competition; 29 is an advanced age for a swimmer. Also, she dislocated her knee during a training run in March this year. But Coventry still seems determined to add victories to her name. Coventry stated on her website that she plans to move to Johannesburg, South Africa, saying that: “I believe that being closer to home and in a country where I ultimately started my swimming career I can have a bigger positive impact on younger athletes wanting to follow their Olympic Dreams.” We at Africa.com are definitely cheering for Kirsty Coventry!