Cape Town - Multiple Olympic and World Championship participant, medal winner and record holder, Roland Schoeman, details what needs to be done to improve swimming in SA.
I think that the majority of sporting South Africa is shocked to see how few swimmers qualified for this year's World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
For the 2013 World Championship in Barcelona, we had 9 male (Schoeman, Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh, Myles Brown, Michael Meyer, Leith Shankland, Darren Murray, Giulio Zorzi and Gerhard Zandberg) and 8 female (Jessica Ashley-Cooper, Marne Erasmus, Trudi Maree, Tara-Lynn Nicholas, Kyna Pereira, Karin Prinsloo, Marlies Ross and Rene Warnes) individual qualifiers.
Here are some thoughts on why we are struggling and a few ideas on how we can improve.
1. Upgrade and Revamp Kings Park. In South Africa we really only have ONE swimming pool capable of hosting an Olympic of World Champ trials. Kings Park is it and unfortunately we need to put all our eggs into one basket. The pool, although our best is so unbelievably outdated. The starting blocks aren't up to current FINA standards (these blocks alone have shown to help 2/10ths of a second on the first 50m) The pool needs to be deeper and the pool needs to be upgraded to a flow over system. The depth of the pool and the flower over system both aid in reducing the amount of waves and therefore the amount of resistance the swimmers experience.
The swimming pools at Kings Park by international standards should be between 26-28 degrees Celsius. On 4 days of the World Champ trials we measured the swimming pool at between 24-25 degrees, well below the minimum requirement set out by swimming's international governing body.
Additionally the warm up/cool down pool at Kings Park (outdoor pool) had its floodlights removed. Thanks to the efforts of Wayne Ridden he managed to put up a tiny bit of lighting otherwise the swimmers would be swimming in absolute darkness.
2. We need to create a vibe and an atmosphere at a trials meet. As far as I am concerned every single nationals is an anticlimax. Any swimmer who has trained in America, raced internationally or even a World Cup sees the effort that goes into running it. I remember when we used to make an effort at South African Nationals. Now unfortunately the bare minimum is being done the create a vibe and atmosphere. The swimmers performances suffer as a direct result of the fact that the atmosphere isn't there, that there isn't a aura of positivity. Look on deck at US Nationals, British Nationals, Australian Nationals even Canadian Nationals. An entire production is being put on. If we took every single top South African swimmer and had them race in a trial meet for any other country, I guarantee they would perform 100% better.
3. Investment. South Africa's goal is to be able to compete with Europe, the Americas and Australia. We believe that we are capable of beating them. I'm in absolute agreement. Yes we are capable of beating them, and we have. The reality however is this: In the US if you are ranked top 16 in the world you receive over $30 000 as a stipend from US swimming. This doesn't even include personal sponsorships. The swimmers is able to use this $30 000 as they wish, the stipulation being, if you aren't top 16 next year we withdraw your funding. Unfortunately Swimming South Africa is unable to fund any swimmers and SASCOC currently only funds Chad and Cameron. Unfortunately the SASCOC allocation I received would not let me paying any coaching fees or any rent. We were given a budget and were only able to spend according to that budget. We would then electronically send our receipts in and receive reimbursement.
In South Africa we are not being allowed to train and compete on a level playing field. We are always 10 steps behind every other top swimming nation in the world.
This year's world championship swim team is once again partially funded. If you rank top 16 based on last year's world rankings you will receive a full funded trip.
Swimming in South Africa needs a dire change. We as swimmers and coaches largely accept the poor facilities, the poor support and the attitude remains."We've done it in the past" Yes, yes you're quite right we have done it in the past. We have done it in the past, IN SPITE of the challenges. Swimming from a place of anger and frustration will only get you so far. It is now that we need a fresh change. It is now that we need fresh faces. We are heading in the direction of Athletics South Africa and as a swimmer I do not want to see that.
We have so many incredibly talented swimmers and coaches in this country, but we need to start moving in the right direction. We are moving backwards at a incredible speed but it isn't too late to pull the brakes.
I believe in the swimmers and coaches, I believe that we have a bright swimming future ahead of us. We are just over a year out of the Olympics. I personally commit myself to finding a way to helping swimming in South Africa improve.
Roland is a multiple Olympic medal winner... and an avid Blue Bulls supporter.
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