WASHINGTON DC —
One of Zimbabwe’s most successful sports figures is nearing the end of her reign, though she is now aiming at breaking an Olympics swimming record.
Kirsty Coventry, affectionately known as Zimbabwe’s “Golden Girl,” is currently tied with Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi for the most individual Olympic swimming medals won out of all females in the history of the Olympic Games.
Coventry has remained adamant that the 2016 Olympics scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro, will be her last event. Asked if she might reconsider, Coventry chuckled.
“No, I don’t think so!” She continued, “you know, I’ve said all along that Rio (de Janeiro) Olympics will be my last big international competition.”
Coventry’s performance at the Olympics is expected to be impressive given her past and most current win at the just-ended All Africa Games in Congo, Brazzaville, where the 31-year-old achieved a triple three-peat, basically winning three events in a row at the African championships.
At the games, Coventry took home three gold medals – 100 meters backstroke, 200 meters Individual Medley and 200 meters backstroke.
Coventry said she was overcome with emotion, when claiming her medals, since this was her last appearance at the All Africa Games, where she’s competed for several years.
“I was very sad,” Coventry said. “It did take me a little bit by surprise how emotional I got saying goodbye to the team, being on the podium for the last time. It’s always been a big part of my career.”
Despite her All Africa Games victory, Coventry said she is working hard to be equally competitive and successful at the Olympics, but is aware of the stiff competition that awaits her.
“It’s going to be challenging,” she shared. “There are a lot of very good swimmers swimming at the moment, especially in my events, so I am looking forward to the challenge,” she said.
Coventry’s swimming career spans more than a decade, with her first gold coming early in her career in 2002 at the Commonwealth Games, according to her website.
Since then, she’s won countless medals in most of her competitions, including the Olympics in Athens in 2004, Beijing, in 2008 and London, in 2012. After winning the gold and several silver medals in the 2008 Olympics, Coventry received a presidential welcome on her return to Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe gave her a huge cash award and a lifetime diplomatic passport.
Coventry credits her success to the support she said she has received from not only her family, but also her fans in Zimbabwe and everywhere.
“I’ve really been so lucky to have so many amazing fans, not just in Africa but round the world, and Zimbabweans that are everywhere.”
Coventry said her role in sports has been key in connecting Zimbabweans with the world.
“Through sports I have managed to keep us all linked together. I think that’s something that’s really amazing, that's what sports does,” she said, ending with, “just, thank you so much for all your support over the years.”
Coventry also thanked her sponsors, Econet Zimbabwe, one of Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile companies, which she described as an “amazing support system,” for her.
“I am very lucky to have them as my main sponsors, and I am very proud to be linked to them,” she said, adding that “they are a wonderful company.”
What Will Coventry Do After Retirement?
Though Coventry will be leaving the world of swimming as a competitor, she said she will still be very involved in various aspects of the sport.
Coventry, who lives in the U. S., has continued to compete as a Zimbabwean, and even established an academy there in February this year to help bring up a new breed of Olympic swimmers.
Coventry said she wants to give back and ensure that all children have access to swimming lessons.
“I’ve set up a Kirsty Coventry Academy and right now we are working with Mother Touch (in Kuwadzana)…and there are about 450 children going through the program.”
Coventry said she hoped to see the next Zimbabwean Olympian coming from her academy, due to the talent she’s witnessed.
“I hope so, there are a lot of young swimmers coming up, but the challenge is that they are still quite young, around 11, 12, 13-years old, so we will have to be a little bit patient, but I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Coventry is also a member of the Athlete’s Commission of the International Olympic Committee, which she said will help her to keep the IOC up to date on issues of concern to athletes representing various countries.
“The International Olympic Committee Athlete’s Commission basically gives a voice to the athletes at the highest level,” she explained, “so we listen to athletes' needs, and the issues that they may have, and also ways they feel they can improve the system, and then we report back to the International Olympic Committee and executive board.”
Coventry won several medals in her illustrious career including two Olympic gold medals, four silver and one bronze. She has in the past indicated that she wanted to quit swimming.