The South African Swimming (SSA) team at the Beijing Olympics, was made up of household names such as the acclaimed Roland Schoeman, yet it failed to collect medals, much against expectations.
Naturally, there were calls for the national body to embark on a serious recruitment drive to bring in athletes who will ensure the success of the country at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Sowetan'sMeshack Khotha (MK) spoke to Swimming South Africa president Jace Naidoo (JN) last week where he expressed their disappointment about the way their swimmers fared in Beijing.
Naidoo also spoke on how to solve the problems and the way forward.
MK: Would you say you were happy with the performance of SA swimmers in Beijing?
JN: No. Of course we were disappointed about what transpired in Beijing. I am sure the swimmers were also disappointed. But I think our overall performance was good based on the improvement of their times and the setting of new African records.
We broke 25 African records and most of our younger swimmers did exceptionally well and we got into the semifinals and finals four years ago.
Then we had a team of seven and this year we had a team of 25 and a large number of women in the team. The one disappointment we had was that we did not have any black swimmers in the team and that is something we have to work on going forward. But I think the challenge for the next four years is to make sure that we can convert the African records into medals.
MK: What do you think were contributing factors having top swimmers like Roland Schoeman and Lyndon Ferns?
JN: There are more experienced swimmers and they make a significant contribution in terms of the overall experience based in the team. They played a role in terms of helping younger athletes who are new to major international events. But I think also there is a lot pressure on them to deliver whenever they go to major heat.
MK: The news that one of the swimmers has retired seeminglybecause of shabby treatment by SSA is it of concern to you?
JN: I am not sure about that. But I know that coach Dirk Lange has resigned. There were allegations in the newspapers against the coach and what SSA has done (is, it) has commissioned an enquiry to investigate those allegations that were made by some swimmers.
The concern of the coach to resign was that the enquiry is taking too long and might have a negative impact on his coaching career. As a result, he asked to be released from his contract so that he could go and look for greener pastures.
MK: What are your preparations for the 2012 Olympics Games in London?
JN: We started with the process of engaging various stakeholders. We had a session with swimmers and we plan to have a session with the coaches as well. There is a number of plans that we are looking at, including various competitions in the country. We are also looking at major international swimming events where our swimmers will have an opportunity to test their readiness.
The first one will be the World Championships in Rome next year. But before that we also have our senior African Championships in December where some of the younger swimmers will be competing.
MK: How do you monitor your swimmers (who are) based overseas?
JN: One, is where we have swimmers coming to the local camp. But also what we do we look at camps overseas. But more importantly is the major international events where some of these swimmers have to register and compete with the best swimmers in the world to assess their performance. In addition to that we ask coaches to send us reports to check if there are any problems we can address and support in terms of improvement.
MK: How often do you organise training camps?
JN: Our training camps are linked to some of the major international events that we have, so there is no fixed number that we are looking at. But it is a link to both major internationals events we have and also based on the funding that is available. In terms of the senior swimmers we are looking at having two or three camps for them and similar numbers of about three or four camps for some of the juniors that will take part at the national events.
MK: Do you involve SA-based swimmers into international events? If yes, how?
JN: In the last few years we had a number of events in addition to the major events - the Fina World Championships, Commonwealth Games and All Africa Games. We also send our swimmers to a number of international events, including Europe competitions to gain competition experience.
MK: How do you help develop locally-based swimmers?
JN: We look at in two folds: in some of the camps we have and also some national competition. Last year we introduced the Samsung Grand Prix series where our local swimmers race against each other in three legs around the country. But in addition to that we will be looking at the international opportunities we can send them on depending off course on our budget constraints.
MK: Do you have overseas coaches in SA?
JN: Yes. There are a number of overseas coaches that are based in South Africa in addition to our head coach who just resigned (Dirk Lange). A number of clubs have coaches that are formerly from Europe and other parts of the world
MK: Is there any talent identification in the townships? If yes, how effective is the programme?
JN: We do we have a number of support programmes for coaches and athletes in the townships where we identify the talent. We provide the opportunities for them to go to camps and competitions, both national and international competitions, to gain experience.
We have been pleased to see the initiative we have been running in Soweto last year with a large number of swimmers performing well and won more medals at the international events. Thabang (Moeketsane) has done extremely well and is coming from our identification programme.
MK: Are there any swimmers who are training at the High Performance Centre beside Thabang Moeketsane?
JN: In terms of the national training centre we have Thabang (Moeketsane) only. In terms of black swimmers in a broader sense we have a number of young swimmers.
We have also facilities in Cape Town where we have a large a number of youngsters who have participated and won medals at the recent championships and senior African championships. Overall we got a squad of about 15 black swimmers across the two centres who are performing well.
MK: What is SSA's forward plan if any?
JN: What we are looking currently is to engage various stakeholders with our athletes, coaches around the country.
Generally, in terms of the plans, there are two areas we need to focus on. Firstly, we need to focus on the development of the sport because swimming is still restricted to a very few people in this country. Secondly, there is a huge talent in the country that were are tapping and that is the critical challenge for us going forward.