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We failed Kirsty — Coltart

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LONDON — Sports minister David Coltart says swimmer Kirsty Coventry has done surprisingly well and overcome incredible odds including lack of financial support and injuries to reach the finals of the London Olympic Games.

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

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

Coltart said Coventry’s spirited performance, in the face of so many challenges, epitomised 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.”

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

But the minister said the problem was 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 teammates. In the last few years she literally had to train on her own.”

Zimbabwe is being represented too 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 Micheen 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 the 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.

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