Kirsty Coventry makes a splash for Zimbabwe

Some of my favorite stories from the Olympic Games are about athletes who bring glory to
countriesCoventry
that would otherwise enjoy very little limelight. Samuel Matete, the 400m hurdler, is one of those athletes. He won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and proudly carried the Zambian flag around the stadium, much to my delight.

At the Beijing Olympics, as she did four years earlier, Kirsty Coventry put Zimbabwe near the top of the medal table, giving some of her countrymen their widest smiles since independence.

The Harare-born swimmer has won four medals in Beijing, three silver and one gold, and seven medals in her career, making me wish she had been born just a few hundred miles north.

“Part of the reason I'm still swimming and still motivated is to raise
my country's flag high and shine some good, positive light on my
country at home,” says Coventry, who refuses to comment publicly on
Zimbabwe's divisive political crisis. “I don't know how many athletes
have their whole country supporting them. Every time I go home, I have
people in the street cheering me.”

Or parents naming newborn sons and daughters after her. Shortly
after the Athens Olympics, there was a Swimmingpool Nhanga born in
Harare, a Freestyle Zuze, a Breaststroke Musendame, a Butterfly
Masocha, a Backstroke Banda. [Link]

Before the Athens Olympics, there was a CantSwim Ndlovu, a DogPaddle Zulu, a BackStrain Banda.

Her grand return to Harare was televised on live TV for two hours.
Mugabe presented her with the equivalent of $50,000 U.S. as “pocket
money.”

That Coventry is a white girl from a Harare suburb who went to
college in the United States and still lives there doesn't seem to
matter to the 12 million residents of Zimbabwe, all but a few thousand
of whom are black and poor. They consider her one of their own, a
lifeline to the rest of the world, a beacon of hope in an
ever-darkening existence. [Link]

Coventry could have found a way to swim for the United States, could have made more money in the process, but she didn't. She swam for the country where she was born, where she grew up. And she swam into the hearts of 12 million people.

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If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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