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Education Minister Says Zimbabwe Failed Kirsty Coventry, Olympic Team

Zimbabwe's Sports Minister David Coltart says Kirsty Coventry has done surprisingly well and overcame incredible odds including lack of financial support and injuries to reach the finals of the London Olympic games.

This after Zimbabwe’s swimming sensation’s disappointing show Tuesday where she finished sixth in the final of the 200 meter individual medley - a few days after finishing seventh in the 100 meter backstroke.

Coventry won medals in both events in 2004 in Athens and Beijing's 2008 games.

Coltart told VOA's Violet Gonda that Coventry’s spirited performance, in the face of so many challenges, epitomizes the grit and determination of Zimbabwean sports competitors.

“I don’t think Zimbabweans really appreciate the obstacles that Kirsty has had to overcome. We always assume that gold medals are easy to come by, but the fact is after the Beijing games she effectively retired and she didn’t swim for over a year.

“And when she came back into the sport she didn’t have the environment of her old university and her old coach,” Coltart added.

The minister said at one point, the swimmer dislocated her knee and was infected with pneumonia.

Getting gold in the Olympics is one way of getting sponsors, but Coltart said this has not been the case for Coventry.

“She has not had a lot of financial support and has been very isolated and only raced two competitive races prior to the London Olympics. So, when you compare that build up to all her competitors you will see that what she has achieved is absolutely remarkable.”

Businessman Strive Masiyiwa and Bulawayo-born Princess Charlene of Monaco are said to be among a few people who have supported Coventry.

“The irony is that those two people are the very people I know who have given tremendous support to Kirsty. It’s more the government, than individuals like that, who have failed in providing adequate resources to Kirsty and other potential Olympic athletes,” Coltart said.

But the minister said the problem is not only about finance.

“It’s also the environment. In the run up to Beijing games, Kirsty came from a university environment where she had team mates. In the last few years she literally had to train on her own.”

Coventry, who won seven of Zimbabwe's eight Olympic medals in history, still carries Zimbabwe’s hopes when she takes part in her strongest event - the 200 meter backstroke Thursday.

Zimbabwe is also being represented in London by triathlete Chris Felgate, Rower Jamie Fraser McKenzie and the marathon trio of Cuthbert Nyasango, Wirimayi Zhuwao and Sharon Tawengwa, who are all still to compete.

Rower Micheene Thorncroft finished fourth in the quarter finals on Tuesday and did not qualify for the semi- finals.

Apart from the medals Coventry won in 2004 and 2008, Zimbabwe scooped gold in the Moscow games after its admission into international sport in 1980 following years in the wilderness due to smart sanctions imposed on the Ian Smith regime.

Coltart said government has to come up with a strategy to identify and nurture talent to lead the country's athletes to greater heights, including making sport development a financial priority and integrating sports into the school curriculum.