Kirsty Coventry

Week 113 (November 30 - 4 December 2015)

Zimbabwe swimmer Kirsty Coventry, it's fair to say, has made her mark in 2015 – and rounded off her busy year by winning a record eighth Swimming World Female African Swimmer of the Year Award.

What most impresses about Coventry's achievements is the range of them. In the pool, Zimbabwe's so-called "golden girl" qualified for her fourth Olympic Games in Rio, where she will represent her country in the 100 metre backstroke. She achieved the necessary qualifying time at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, where she was one of Africa's stand-out swimmers, leading her continent in four events: the 50m, 100m, and 200m backstroke and the 200m individual medley.

Out of the pool, Coventry has also excelled herself. She is an IOC Member and sits on a multitude of commissions: the Athletes' Commission; the Coordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games; Olympic Solidarity; and the Olympic Channel. She is also an ambassador for the World Anti-Doping Agency and has enough time to service a Twitter account of 38,000+ followers.

Yet it's away from the Olympic Movement and elite sport where Coventry has spoken the loudest in 2015. Earlier this year, the 32-year-old set up the Kirsty Coventry Academy, a non-profit organisation in Zimbabwe that benefits children through sporting and education campaigns.

And Coventry has spoken passionately and directly about the academy in recent weeks, as its pilot project has been rolled out.

"I know first-hand the power that sport can bring to a nation and I want to use sport to save lives, uplift communities and empower individuals. Our priority is to prevent drowning so the academy will not aim at developing Olympians yet because there is a far greater need for people to simply learn how to swim," Coventry said.

And there can be absolutely no doubt that Coventry has the profile and communications ability to ensure her project brings about a significant reduction in the 2,000 reported cases of drowning which have occurred in Zimbabwe in recent years.

When Coventry won her first Olympic gold medal at Athens 2004 in the 200m backstroke, new mothers in Zimbabwe gave their offspring names in her honour, such as Kirstee Coventree Kavamba and Goldmedal Zulu.

That kind of recognition, coupled with her ability to communicate to fellow IOC Members, to her countrymen and women, or to the international media, is a powerful combination.

Photo: Pindula