SHE might still be getting used to her new title as the country’s Youth Sport, Arts and Recreation minister, but swimming legend Kirsty Coventry is wasting no time in getting down to business in her new role.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Coventry admitted to finding the funny side after Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC) acting president Thabani Gonye introduced her to the audience using her title of “honourable minister” during the announcement of the Zimbabwe team for the upcoming Youth Olympic Games last week.
“I think I’m still getting used to the (title of) honourable minister, I wanted to laugh when you were calling me that. Not out of any disrespect, just getting used to the thought,” Coventry said with a chuckle and to the amusement of the audience.
Coventry is, however, taking a hands-on approach in her new role and will accompany the Zimbabwe team at the global youth showpiece to be held from October 6-18 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the team’s chef-de-mission.
The seven-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer and Africa’s most decorated Olympian was appointed as chef-de-mission for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games early this year in May and decided to continue in the role even after her appointment as the new Sports minister.
Zimbabwe will be represented by 15 athletes from six different sporting codes, namely swimming, rowing, hockey, athletics, equestrian and judo.
This year’s games will be the third Youth Olympic Games that Zimbabwe will be sending a team to since the inaugural edition hosted by Singapore in 2010.
Coventry highlighted the significance of participating at the global youth games, pointing to the importance of ensuring young athletes progress from the youth games to other top competitions.
“I just want to thank everyone that’s been involved, especially as (ZOC) acting president Thabani Gonye said the technical commission worked really hard to make sure that there are things in place for the national federations to understand the processes for the athletes,” Coventry said.
She noted the importance of support for the young athletes without putting too much pressure on them if they are to reach full potential.
“It’s encouraging to see that we have 15 athletes who have qualified. We are going to be super supportive of them competing in Buenos Aires and having fun and enjoying their experience, but also hoping that they will then continue for the 2020 Olympics and further on because that really is a goal.”
She added: “It’s a platform, which athletes can use as a stepping stone from the Youth Olympic Games to the Olympic Games. I think if we can work together to ensure that, that happens through the national federations, then I think we will be doing really good justice to these athletes that it’s not just a one-time thing where they just go to the Youth Olympics and we never hear or see them again.”
The Zimbabwe team, which is scheduled to leave for Argentina tomorrow, will look no further than the country’s Sports minister Coventry for inspiration.
The 34-year-old made her maiden appearance at the Olympic Games as a teenager in 2000 and competed in her fifth Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro before retiring from competitive swimming.
Promising track and field athlete Privillege Chikara — a student at Masarirambi Secondary School near Chivhu — will be the country’s lone representative in athletics after finishing fifth in the 1 500m event at the African Youth Games in Algeria this year.
Chikara will be accompanied at the Youth Olympics by her coach Brian Nhubu, who is the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe director of youth coaching.
Christi Rose Prestorius, who won a bronze medal at the European Cadet Cup in Berlin, Germany, in May, will represent the country in judo while the pair of Lorryn Bass and David Maonga will compete in rowing after booking their place at the African Youth Games where they won a silver medal.
Chisipite Senior School student Brianagh Clark was the first Zimbabwean to qualify for the Youth Olympics after booking her spot in equestrian during the Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) World Jumping Challenge final held in Namibia in December last year.
The girls’ hockey team, who came third at the African Youth Games in Algeria, are the only local team sport travelling to South America.