Finally, after winning silver medals in the 400m Individual Medley, the 100m Backstroke, and the 200m Individual Medley, Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry has secured gold in the 200m Backstroke, her final event. Not only did she do it in world record time, she has successfully defended the title she first won in Athens.
Her success has attracted interest from the press, in particular there was a very interesting article from the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled Golden girl who united Africa’s pariah nation, which begins by stating:
EVERYWHERE she competes, every time she wins an event, popular Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry is asked the same questions. Does she still live there? If not, how often does she go back? And, inevitably, what does she think of the economic and political situation?
Patiently, politely, the 24-year-old smiles and explains that she has lived in the United States for several years, in Texas and now in Alabama, where she won a sports scholarship to Auburn University, home to one of the US’s most successful swim teams.
That she returns two or three times a year to Harare, where she was born and attended a convent school and where her mother and father, Rob and Lyn, still run a household chemicals company. She is inevitably mobbed by crowds at the airport and her parents are forced to switch off their telephones.
On the politics of a country, with a pariah President, Robert Mugabe, an annual inflation rate of 150,000 per cent and a population of 13 million starved of food, fuel and employment, she is diplomatic. “Things are not that good. People are hurting. Even the President understands there must be change.”
Last time she went back to Harare, she had one gold, one silver and one bronze; this was very awkward for Mugabe. I can imagine that her three silvers and one gold, plus her world records, will make matters even more awkward for him. But uncomfortable for Mugabe is delight for the people of Zimbabwe.
Even so, she’s not going to rub it in his face. It speaks well of her intelligence and courtesy that Fox Sports Australia said she could be an ambassador, as they stated in their article, “Coventry relies on power of one to effect change in her homeland”:
FEW athletes have to walk as fine a line at the Games as Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry. Somehow she has to represent her country with pride but without condoning the excesses of the Robert Mugabe regime, which have reduced much of her country to chaos and poverty.
Her ability to walk that line, while maintaining an outstanding competition record, suggests that Coventry, 24, has a future in diplomacy if she so chooses. Despite countless invitations from the international media to speak out against the Mugabe Government during her career, she remains apolitical.
In any event, Ms. Coventry deserves a round of applause as a truly great Olympian, as a representative for her country and its aspirations, and as a individual of character and merit.