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03 Aug 2012 00:00
Lindsay Manthey knew she was dealing with something special soon after Le Clos enrolled at her private swimming club.(Gallo)
"I know his fighting spirit," said Lindsay Manthey, a grade seven teacher and swimming coach at Penzance Primary School in Durban, which Le Clos attended. "Even as a child he had a really competitive spirit and an incredible work ethic."
Manthey knew she was dealing with something special soon after Le Clos enrolled at her private swimming club, based at the school, as an eight-year-old.
"Within a year I saw he had incredible potential and started looking around for who I thought would be the best coach for him," she said.
Manthey said the shool was thrilled to hear Le Clos had won the gold medal in the Olympic 200m butterfly final in London on July 31. A special assembly was held the morning after and teachers and pupils have been wearing supporters' T-shirts ever since the announcement of the 20-year-old's inclusion in the South African team.
Several pupils at the school said Le Clos's achievement had inspired them to excel in sport. Grade seven pupil Simphiwe Ndlovu, who swims freestyle and breaststroke, said: "Most people who come here will want to be on his level."
Noms Mhlaba, who also swims for the school but admits a preference for hockey, agreed. "[As I was watching the event] I was thinking if I could work harder, I could achieve the same."
Mhlaba said she was surprised to learn that more black people were taking an interest in competitive swimming. "I was watching the news and I saw an insert about a black guy who is training to compete in the 2016 Olympics. Most swimmers are white. When you see a black swimmer, it's like 'wow'."
Twenty minutes away at the Pisces Swimming Academy in Sydenham, senior coach Brenton Meth said the situation was changing slowly but surely. "The perception that black children are not interested in competitive swimming is totally incorrect. The main reason is that there is still a lot of work to be done to develop facilities in their areas."
Meth is in charge of the KwaZulu-Natal Aquatics fast-track programme aimed at getting disadvantaged black children into higher levels of competitive swimming. He said many of the children, most of whom hailed from the province's townships, had won medals at the KwaZulu-Natal championships last year. "Some of the kids are swimming for South Africa. The potential is there."
Meth's father Eddie, who founded Pisces in 1976, said more than half of the 1–500 children who learned to swim at the academy annually were black.
"They come mainly from the townships. They are very motivated," he said, pointing out that an intensive programme he had embarked on in several townships about 30 years ago had reaped phenomenal results.
"We assisted in training children in those areas, identified those who wanted to go further and mentored them to become coaches."
At least two of his former students have since embarked on similar programmes in their areas.
"Black kids love swimming. It just needs to be more effectively marketed. Chad's performance is going to have an impact on South African kids and society as a whole."
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