Schoeman hopes to make impact
A host of Bermudian swimmers were treated to a memorable lesson this week as Roland Schoeman, an Olympic champion, passed on his experiences and expertise at a camp hosted by the Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association and its member clubs.
Schoeman, who was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and now resides in Arizona, enjoyed an illustrious career, with his standout year coming in 2004 where he clinched Olympic gold in Athens in the 4x100 metres freestyle relay as well as a silver in the 100 freestyle and a bronze in the 50 freestyle.
The 38-year-old, who also won gold and silver medals in the 50 freestyle and butterfly at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, relished the opportunity to help coach the island’s young swimmers through the camp initiative, which was set up through his longstanding friendship with Julian Fletcher, a former Bermuda Olympic swimmer.
“This is my first time in Bermuda and I’m real excited to be here,” said Schoeman, ahead of a training session with youngsters from Harbour Swim Club at the Basa pool on Wednesday.
“I love sharing my knowledge, especially in countries that have smaller programmes. I had an opportunity to go to Aruba as well and it makes a significant impact on the swimmers there.
“This was something I spoke to Julian about and was something we knew we had to arrange. Julian and I raced against each other in the 50 and 100 breaststroke; he used to live in LA and we were on the World Cup series together and just stayed in touch. I knew he was here and said I wanted to come out, to see what I can do to help.”
Reflecting on the memorable journey throughout his career, Schoeman described the special moment of winning the relay gold at the Olympics alongside Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling, a medal that was not only significant on a professionally level but also on a personal one; Schoeman’s father died shortly after he took up the sport at the age of 14.
“I remember my first real big competition, trying to qualify for the South Africa World Championship trials,” said the four-times Olympian, who was named South African Sports Star of the Year in 2004.
“It was the second day of the meet that I got back home and my mum said sit down and then told me that my father passed away in a car accident.
“I made the choice at that time to carry on swimming in the meet while trying to qualify for my first trial while mourning the loss. My motivation at that meet was to honour him. I honoured my dad through my efforts, that in spite of something awful happening in my life, I had ability to focus and turn that around into something positive.”
On the crowning moment of his career at the Athens Olympics, he added: “We trained together and saw each other grow and to stand on the podium with three brothers, hearing the national anthem — the first time a South African relay team has ever done that — was pretty special. It was, without a doubt, the highlight for me.”
Although retired, Schoeman, who focuses his attention to coaching, revealed his desire to race competitively again, but spoke of the issues facing any aspiring swimmer in his homeland.
“I’ve been doing a lot of consulting work lately,” added Schoeman, who claimed multiple world records, including becoming the first man to swim under 21 seconds in the 50 freestyle, holding the world record at 20.98. “I worked with Aruba, the Singapore national team and the Canadian national team.
“My last competitive race for Fina was in 2016, but I’m back in the testing pool, so my goal is to start racing again pretty soon. I wish the South African Government would support us more; it’s an issue I’ve been highlighting since 2004 and it keeps getting worse, unfortunately. If the athletes can be independent of the governing bodies and the Olympics committees it will help.
“The problem in a country like South Africa is that the politicians understand that sport has the ability to unite or divide a nation, and they like to control that. Our big sports are cricket, soccer and rugby and if you are competing in one of those sports you can make a lot of money. In Olympic sports nobody pumps money into it.
“Most Olympic athletes aren’t expecting millions of dollars a year, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 goes a long way to helping take off the basic essentials.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get rich from it, but I had so much passion for the sport of swimming and always wanted to be in the water, whether the swimming pool or the ocean.
“I’d rather do two workouts a day for five, six hours and try to make a living then sitting in a cubicle at work and being miserable every day of my life.”
Meanwhile, as part of the clinic, another Olympian, Alia Atkinson, of Jamaica, will participate in a free clinic tomorrow, where swimmers aged 11 to 18 not registered with Basa can learn of the basics of the sport at the Basa pool at Saltus Grammar School from 2pm to 5pm.
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