/ 18 August 2008

Tension flares in SA swimming camp

Tensions in South Africa’s swimming camp boiled over on Sunday as former Olympic champion Roland Schoeman took a massive swipe at the country’s swimming captain, Gerhard Zandberg.

While the two were said to have come to blows in the training camp in South Korea before the Olympics, Schoeman revealed in his column Vryslag in Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Sondag that Zandberg had ”celebrated” Schoeman’s seventh place in the 50m individual medley on Saturday.

The animosity between the two is well known in swimming circles, but the news would shock most South African sporting fans who were hoping for a medal in the Olympics.

Schoeman said while he was disappointed by his seventh place in the event, he felt that finishing ”a 20th of a second behind the eventual winner” was not something to cry over.

However, he had some choice words for Zandberg, whose reaction he said had shocked him.

”It was interesting and rather disturbing to see that the South African swim captain was apparently celebrating the fact that I did not win a medal in the event,” Schoeman said. ”An athlete from another country who sat next to Gerhard came to me afterwards and told me how shocked he was to see Gerhard openly celebrate the result with a big smile on his face.”

The sarcasm was dripping from Schoeman’s reaction as he said: ”What can I say to that, but, ‘Captain, my captain.’ I hope it’s not the typical South African reaction.”

Schoeman said he still believes his Beijing experience was a positive one, which ”could not be disturbed even through the actions of the press and management”.

The swimmer, who was part of the original ”awesome foursome” who won gold and set a world record in Athens four years ago, revealed some of the problems facing local swimmers at the Games.

”There are so many stories to tell about what was happening behind the scenes. Even though things were against us, we tried to go out every day and give our best performances. Sometimes I wonder about the way the public and media are so quick to criticise.”

Schoeman spoke about the experiences of Suzaan van Biljon, who had to contend with two ripped swimsuits and was forced eventually to swim in her practice suit as there was no other choice.

”A swimmer needs to be allowed to prepare with the least possible problems and you need to handle the stress and get yourself into the zone,” Schoeman wrote.

”Suzaan was asked to swim in a bodysuit because the sponsor had nothing else available. It isn’t an easy process to put on one of these swimsuits, and can take up to 10 minutes to fit.

”Her first suit ripped and so did the second. Seconds ticked past and she needed to get ready. A third swimsuit was found, but also tore when it was put on. She had no other choice but to swim in her normal practice suit.”

Schoeman sent out a call for South Africans to be proud of their swimmers, who broke 18 South African and African records in the process.

”All I can say to South Africa is, be proud of your swimmers. They are still world class. They all trained to the best of their abilities and gave their all, even though they didn’t win any medals.” — Sapa