SA swimming's continuous fight for support

Myles Brown (Gallo)
Myles Brown (Gallo)

Cape Town - Once every four years the greater South African sporting public pays attention to swimming. 

For that week, our Olympic swimmers are our pride and joy. We scream for them, wake up at ungodly hours to support them and we pack out airports to welcome them home. 

Then, when all of the dust has settled, we forget them. 

That may be a bit dramatic, and it surely is not true for everyone, but the harsh reality for our swimmers is that the Olympics is the only stage that commands serious public attention. 

When the Olympic cycle ends, these athletes push 'reset' and start putting in the hard yards in training and at local and provincial meets that are a million miles apart from the glitz and glamour of an Olympic Games. 

In those times, being a professional swimmer in South Africa can be tough. 

"A lot of people only want to be there with you at the height of your career and when everyone is watching. That's the time when we don't really need as much support," Myles Brown, 2016 South African Olympian, tells Sport24.  

"It's the two years straight after the Olympic cycle when you need the support. There is not a lot of attention and awareness around swimming after the Olympics because there's been so much media and support for the Olympics. People forget about that very quickly ... it does make it very tough to gain support and momentum heading into World Champs, especially this year."

Brown represented South Africa in four events at Rio 2016 - the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay. 

While he progressed to the semi-finals of the 200m freestyle, Brown did not progress to a final in any of the events. 

It was a bitter-sweet Olympics for him.

"In the 400m I broke my national record in the heats and I think I missed out on the final by half-a-second, which over 400m is nail-biting stuff," he explained.

"You can't be unhappy with swimming the best that you can. I swam a personal best and missed out. I was obviously disappointed, but I think throughout the Olympics I kept getting faster every time I swam. I can't be unhappy. I gave it my best and did everything I could."

The overall aim now for the 24-year-old is Tokyo 2020, where he wants to focus on the 200m and 400m freestyle once more, but before then there a number of big events on the cards. 

This year he has the FINA World Championships in Budapest in July, where he will be swimming the 200m freestyle, as well as the World University Games in Chinese Tapei in August. 

Then there is the big one - the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast in April next year. 

Brown understands better than most the struggles that swimming faces in South Africa. 

He is not bitter, holds no resentment towards anybody and he speaks highly of both SASCOC and Swimming South Africa. 

"Every federation and committee has its ups and downs and faults. I feel that Swimming SA and SASCOC have treated me really well," said Brown.

"This time of year is really tough. They put in a lot of support and funding heading into Olympics and obviously with the current economic situation, it does make it very tough.

"If you swim well they're going to support you and that's the main thing."

But it is the public support in the meets in between the Olympics that Brown really wants to see. 

"It's not a small stage ... World Champs is one of the biggest swimming events. Everyone knows who the world champion is, who the Commonwealth champion is ... but people kind of forget about that," he said.

Brown believes that there is a good crop of young swimmers coming up in South Africa and that the sport has a bright future. 

"What Chad (Le Clos) and Cameron (Van der Burgh) have done for the sport in South Africa is huge. They've garnered an interest in the sport. Youngsters not only want to swim with them but they want to beat those guys and I think that's important. Not everyone grows up wanting to beat their role models."

Brown's relationship with Le Clos goes back a long way, and it has been a unique blend of friendship and competitiveness. 

Before Le Clos relocated from Durban to Cape Town late last year, he worked with Brown under national swimming coach Graham Hill. 

Born and raised in Durban, Brown chuckles when he recalls his relationship with Le Clos. 

"It is quite a unique relationship," he said.

"We had great respect for each other and viewed each other as friends. He helped me out with a lot of things when I first started touring in 2013.

"Both of us understood that we wanted to get that main stage and win a gold medal at the Olympics and it was all about pushing one another along to achieve that. I still view Chad as a friend and a role model."

While Le Clos has already achieved that dream of winning Olympic gold, Brown is doing all he can to push the limits as far as he possibly can. 

Olympic gold in Tokyo might be a stretch too far at this stage, but there is a lot happening before then. 

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