Among continuing financial uncertainty in Swimming South Africa, amid the loss of a major sponsor, a group of 8 young talented female swimmers have received a huge boost with the launch of the ‘Get the Girls to Gold’ programme.
The event that will support 8 promising young South African swimmers was started by Marie Claire magazine and already has pledged support from Charlene, Princess of Monaco, who was born in Zimbabwe but representing South Africa was one of the biggest female swimming stars the country has seen during this millennium.
‘It started a year ago with a timeous comment of Ryk Neethling,’ says Aspasia Karras, editor of Marie Claire South Africa. ‘Ryk explained back then that there was a need to help girls achieve Olympic greatness and that it was the fervent desire of Graham Hill (Olympic coach and the man who guided Chad le Clos into the national heart and to gold) to set up a project that would do just that.’
Despite the relative success of their men’s team, the South African women’s lone podium in the last four games was from Penelope Heyns, who took bronze in the 100 breaststroke in Sydney at the 2000 Games.
The goal is to raise 250,000 Rand (approximately $25,000) per year, with Citadel and Lucky Star kicking things off with a combined 20,000 Rand ($2,000) to the fund. The money is to be used to support their training and, hopefully international-level competition.
The 8 targeted swimmers, chosen by Swimming South Africa, are Ayanda Maphumulo (13), Jamie Reynolds (15), Erin Gallagher (14), Marlies Ross (15), Khwezi Duma (11), Nathania van Niekerk (14), Rita Naude (15), and Erin Anderson (14).
‘It is important that these girls in turn become roles models for other girls. It is the first step, if we get these girls to Rio successfully, for other girls also to aspire to be champions,’ says HSH Princess Charlene, who also features on the covers of Marie Claire.
‘We are absolutely delighted to have Princess Charlene’s support,’ says Karras. ‘Not only her, but our male Olympic swimmers (Ryk Neethling, Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burg) are also reaching out to help a new generation of female swimmers achieve. A team effort worth two covers; for the first time ever we have a split cover, with Princess Charlene on one and on the other, she shares it with our Olympic heroes Ryk Neethling and Chad le Clos. The aim: to raise awareness for the programme.’
The program’s goal is the 2016 Summer Olympics, and despite just how young these swimmers are, organizers say that they’d be happy with two medals.
Neethling, who sparked the inspiration from the idea, tells us that the idea is three-fold: to provide funding for SA swimmers in an uncertain environment, to promote the sport, and most importantly to give some of the country’s young swimmers a direct link to swimming role models like Princess Charlene and Penny Heyns.
He is one of the country’s greatest swimming heroes, competing at four consecutive Olympic Games and as a part of the 400 free relay that took gold and broke the World Record in 2004.
Below, see some of the top times from this young group of selected swimmers.
Maphumulo (13) - 1:06/2:24 free, 1:23 100 breast,
Reynolds (15) - 28.48 50 free at 13, now 27.6/59.7. 1:06 back
Gallagher (14) – 27.2 50 free
Ross (15) - Youngest member of Worlds team, 2:18 200 IM
Duma (11) – 1:12 100 back, 31.6 50 free, 1:06 100 free,
van Niekerk (14) - African Champ in 200 back, 2:20.30
Naude (15) - 30.1 50 back, 27,5 50 free
Anderson (14) - 1:12.3 100 breaststroke, 2:37.8 200 breaststroke.