“Zimbabwe is my home. It’s where I was born. It’s my culture. I will always represent Zimbabwe. Color doesn’t matter to me.” Kirsty Coventry
Seven-time Olympic medalist, Kirsty Coventry is the only African and the third woman in history to break the 1:00min barrier in the Women 100m Backstroke. Also the second woman to go under 59secs in the event. She has the highest number of individual Olympic medals of all female swimmers in history.
Kirsty Leigh Coventry was born in Harare on the 16th of September 1983. Remarkably, her parents taught her to swim as a growing child, and one fateful day, Kirsty told her parents she would go to the Olympic Games and win gold. She was just nine years old then.
“It’s possibly one of the reasons I am quite a strong swimmer today.”
At the age of 12, Kirsty’s parents took the family out to Beira, Mozambique on a vacation and they had camped on the beach until a sandstorm blew out of nowhere forcing them to sleep in the car. Kirsty recalls on the same trip, they had to be rescued one day after they swam out to the dolphins because the current swept them a long way out.
In 2000, while still a student in Harare at Dominican Convent High School, she represented her country at the Sydney Olympic Games, becoming the first Zimbabwean swimmer to get to the semi-finals. Barely 17, Kirsty Coventry was named Zimbabwe’s Sportswoman of the Year.
Kirsty moved to the United States on a scholarship to Auburn University after high school and was part of the Auburn Tigers (swimming and diving team), that won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships in 2003 and 2004. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Kirsty won the gold medal in the 200m backstroke, silver (100m backstroke) and bronze in the 200m medley.
Kirsty Coventry proved her Olympic feat were no flukes by bagging two gold and two silver medals at the 2005 World Aquatic Championships (9th FINA World Championships) in Montréal, Canada. For her feat, she was named Female Swimmer of the Meet.
On February 16, 2008 at the US Grand Prix in Columbia, Missouri, Kirsty Coventry clocked 2:06:39 to set a new world record in the 200m backstroke, eclipsing the time set by Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi in 1991 which was the second-oldest record in swimming. At the Beijing Olympics six months later, Kirsty defended her 200m backstroke, winning in 2:05:24 to reclaim the world record after Margaret Hoelzer had broken Kirsty’s mark at the US Olympic Trials in July.
Earlier at the Olympics, Kirsty Coventry picked three silver medals in the 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley and 100m backstroke. Her first was in the 400m individual medley where she became the second woman to swim under 4:30, behind the champion Stephanie Rice as both swimmers beat the previous world record. Kirsty picked a second silver in the 100m backstroke despite setting a world record earlier in the semi-finals.
Upon her return from Beijing, President Robert Mugabe called her ‘a golden girl’ and awarded her a US100,000 reward, of which she in turn gave a substantial part to charity.
Four months to the London Olympic Games in 2012, Kirsty suffered a knee injury and was down with pneumonia two months later. Her preparation was greatly affected and although she made the finals of her events, she did not win any medal. She has however commenced preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil which will be her final appearance at the games.
In 2012, Kirsty was elected to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission and will serve an 8-year term. To tackle drowning in Zimbabwe, she established the Kirsty Coventry Academy in 2015. The academy also has a vision to empower individuals through sports training programs.
Kristy Coventry got married to her manager Tyrone Seward, a fellow Zimbabwean on August 10, 2013. The couple plan to start raising children after Kirsty’s retirement after the Rio games.
Afro Tourism salutes this wonderful young woman, phenomenal athlete, Olympic and world champion, city icon, national hero and proud African, Kirsty Leigh Coventry! We wish her good success at the 2016 Rio Olympics as she goes to make Zimbabwe and Africa proud.
Kirsty Coventry: On the Marble…
- “In whatever you are doing make sure you begin with a strong foundation… Spend time in getting it right from the beginning so you don’t have to keep going back and fixing things – this will allow you to focus on the present whilst thinking about the future.”
- “I am often asked what I think the Perfect World would be. I always refer to the Olympic Village: 10,000 athletes from 205 countries that live together, compete against each other, yet respect and support one another. …xenophobic attacks in South Africa are violent and unnecessary.”
- “Enjoying what you do is an important motivation to keep you moving forward even through the most challenging times, so be brave and remember to always have fun.”
- “Zimbabwe may not have the best sporting infrastructure or the latest in training technologies but that has enabled me to become mentally strong. I have had to overcome enormous challenges to compete on the international stage.”
- “If you have built a good foundation with solid support and unbreakable trust, then you don’t need to look behind you.”
- “I’m very proud to be Zimbabwean and to represent Zimbabwe.”
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