When reviewing race results from South Africa’s National Championships last week, it was impossible to not take notice of the relatively young ages of a good portion of the female race finalists. However, the sight of 15- and 16-year olds in the top spots of the country’s world trials is not a total surprise, given that several of them are participants of the ongoing “Get the Girls to Gold” program.
In July 2013, with the help of Marie Claire magazine and Charlene, Princess of Monaco, Swimming South Africa was able to launch the “Get the Girls to Gold” program, a comprehensive plan to financially support a group of 8 young talented female South African swimmers further their Olympic swimming aspirations. With an original funding goal of 250,000 Rand (approximately $25,000) per year, the hope was for the group of 8 to earn 2 Olympic medals among them at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The idea originally started when South African swimming legend Ryk Neethling voiced his concerns of a dire need to help girls achieve Olympic greatness in his country, citing the vast difference in Olympic podium placements between South African men and women over the years.
So, how does the program seem to be faring? Seven of the targeted female athletes competed at the South African Nationals, and that group was able to attain some remarkable results. Among Jamie Reynolds, Erin Gallagher, Marlies Ross, Khwezi Duma, Nathania van Niekerk, Rita Naude and Erin Anderson, the girls were able to earn four South African national titles, four runner-up finishes, and a total of 16 top 8 finishes over the course of the competition. Below are the results per individual swimmer:
- Jamie Reynolds 14 – 4th 50 free, 8th 100 back, 7th 50 breast, 9th 100 free, 9th 50 fly
- Erin Gallagher 14 – 1st 50 free, 1st 100 free
- Marlies Ross 15 – 1st 200 IM, 2nd 400m free, 2nd 200 free, 2nd 100 free
- Khwezi Duma 11 – highest finish was 18th out of 100 back semis
- Nathania van Niekerk 14 -1st 200 back, 2nd in 100 back
- Rita Naude 15 – 4th 50 fly, 5th 100 fly, 5th 100 back
- Erin Anderson 14 – 6th 200 IM, 7th 400 IM
It is important to note that no South African female, of this group included, successfully cleared a 2015 FINA World Championships qualifying standard. And, with Rio just about 17 months out, that fact does cast some doubt on whether the goal of 2 Olympic medals can be accomplished in 2016. However, the fact that the women are improving on their times and able to not only compete, but win among the best South Africa has to offer, does impart hope on the future of South African female swimming.