Dejection and disillusionment could be mere words safely tucked in the dictionary, but they sum up Olympics swimming medalist Kirsty Coventry’s feelings at the direction local sport has taken.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
Now a decade after she became a global swimming soundtrack at the Athens Olympics, no better words can define the way her feelings have drastically changed.
“We don’t do enough locally to help our sports move forward,” said Coventry.
“I won Gold in 2004, what changed? I won Gold in 2008, what changed? I never won anything in 2012, what changed? Our Olympics team is getting smaller and our athletes are choosing to compete for other countries. When I gave the country an opportunity to move with the momentum I created when I won Gold, the country did nothing to capitalise on that.”
True to her sentiments, in 2012, Zimbabwe sent to London a record lowest number of athletes (seven) in their Olympics history.
For the first time ever, the country was unable to compete in track and field events at the Games where no athlete returned home with a medal.
Coventry said her heart bled especially for swimming where she feels there are swimmers who could scale the heights she reached.
“Many kids have the potential to get onto the world stage but without the support they need, it will not be easy. I have proven that you can do it but my hope is that the others don’t have it as difficult as I did. If you wait for someone to help instead of doing it yourself, you will not get there,” she said.
At the height of her career at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, she swept one Gold and three Silver medals to add on to the one Gold, one Silver and a Bronze she scooped at the previous edition in Athens.
Being a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletics Commission, a body that represents the interests of Olympians and selected by the athletes themselves, Coventry has had the experience to work with sportspersons across all disciplines.
Her IOC role has taught her about “the importance of an athlete” and she feels she can eventually become a sports administrator in Zimbabwe.
“Athletes are still not being respected and given the support they need and this needs to change. I hope to have a continued impact on sport in Zimbabwe so this can change,” she said.
“I have learnt the hard way in expecting things to change but the truth is if you want something to happen, you have to do it yourself. I am setting up the Kirsty Coventry Academy that will help promote and teach sports in Zimbabwe.”
Since the departure of Kevin Ullyett as well as the Black brothers — Byron and Wayne — into retirement, Zimbabwe has vanished from the prestigious Davis Cup World Group.
Cricket is in a mess and hopes of sanity being restored are rapidly fading.
Chaos characterises football, the most followed sport in the country, where all attention is currently being placed on the senior national team with no juniors to talk about.
Coventry emphasises on “support” for sportspersons, but that does not exist in youth football which is a vital component of the game.
Athletics, which is the biggest medal draw card for most nations at major competitions, is also struggling to find its feet.
What then could be the solution to Zimbabwe’s sporting problems?
“It is all about accountability. If you are not doing your job, you need to be removed,” Coventry suggested.
She completed the whole of last year without hitting the pools with her last race being at the London 2012 Olympics.