Saturday, August 9, 2008

Interesting People: Kirsty Coventry

A short installment in my ongoing series on "interesting people". I was a bit surprised while watching the Olympics to see a white woman swimming for Zimbabwe in lane eight of a final. Given the sordid past of President Robert Mugabe regarding the white farmers of this country and its ongoing racial tension, I will admit to being taken aback.

That lady wasn't just a random athlete, turns out, but rather has been named a "golden girl" by Mugabe himself. Coventry has tricky shoals to negotiate as a popular white figure in a country torn by racial divisions instigated by the government. She arose to prominence after winning a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal in Athens, and naturally her opinion as a prominent white in Zimbabwe has been sought. Check out this careful statement about current life back home:

Things aren't that good. I take any opportunity I can to raise our country's flag really high and get some shining positive light on things over there.

This article from the Australian network ABC makes for interesting reading, and I recommend it. A shorter version -- naturally -- comes via USA Today. She has a political and national pressure on her beyond anything an American athlete has faced in decades. The closest cognate that comes to mind is one of my favorite figures, sprinter Cathy Freeman from Australia (I should write more about her later, but till now check out this profile.)

I can tell you that I'll be rooting for Ms. Coventry in every event she competes, regardless of who else is in the field. She deserves it, and all of Zimbabwe needs that cheer as well. Oh, and she just scored a silver in the 400m individual relay. Go Kirsty.

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