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Back You are here: Home Sports Swimming Kwa Zulu Natal Westville - SA's Undefeated Swimmers
Monday, 25 May 2009 22:50

Westville - SA's Undefeated Swimmers

 

 

For the second year in a row Westville Boy’s High have swum their hearts out and ended the 2009 season unbeatable in every gala that they competed in.  It is an impressive record that encompasses a variety of disciplines in the water and across all age groups. From winning the KZN Top 10 Gala where they broke 11 records to winning the schools section of the Midmar Mile for an astonishing 15th year with 4 WBHS swimmers finishing in the Mens top 20. With such depth in their swimming team they have been able in recent years to have had Chad Ho swimming at the 2008 Olympics as well as Chad le Clos and Leith Shankland winning gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games and World Youth Games respectively.

How has this dominance come about and how long can Westville stay ahead of the competition? We listened to the thoughts and opinions of the school’s top swimmers and coaches.

The success of Westville in the water goes back a few years with several old boys succeeding in triathlons and biathlons however  it went through a patch in the mid 90’s where the swimming at WBHS fell off the pace somewhat.  “At that time there were many swimmers who could swim but were not being encouraged to swim, we even had a club that was based at the school and it seemed ridiculous that we were not stronger at swimming and many of these boys were not even attending Westville Boys, “says Nestor Pierides.  Part of the whole process of improving the standard of swimming at WBHS was to encourage the local swimmers to attend the school which happened after they had started the Sports Academy.  “We also started to look at the local primary schools and identifying certain kids who had potential and who we thought could become decent swimmers and we offered to develop them further and encouraged them to join the 3 clubs in the Highway area, “explains Pierides. 

 

Once the school started to obtain swimmers that were of a higher standard and who were now getting specialized development and training the process started to snowball and by the year 2000 Westville had started to compete with many of the top schools in the country. More and more kids who had been identified from primary schools had started to flood into Westville which further strengthened the growing swimming tradition of the school.  The involvement of ex-national swimmer Petra Nortjie who runs a club from the school has proved to have been invaluable in facilitating top level coaching filter down to the athletes.

As Nestor Pierides says, “this success attracted more and more interest and we were able to attract swimmers from further afield and by 2005 we were amongst the top 5 swimming teams in the country, but we haven’t tried to attract a ‘superman’ we have always wanted our swimmers to swim every stroke which has helped us to dominate most of the medleys.” The rapid evolvement of Westville’s success can be attributed not only to the influx of top class swimmers but by an active campaign to encourage boys to embrace the sport and in so doing receive specialized training so that they could reach their fullest potential. 

 Steadily as the results started to flood in an ethos  has grown amongst swimmers who proudly could view their sport as a high profile sport on a par with other brand sports like cricket and rugby.

It would however be unfair to the other powerhouses of schoolboy swimming to attribute all of Westville’s success to the fact that the other schools are fielding weak teams but there definitely seems to have been a shift in the power base with newer schools able to compete against the traditionally strong schools. Newer school teams are proving stronger and are often able to pull off an upset result. Top swimmer Charl Van Zyl is very aware that simple mistakes can often hand the opposition a result, “It is a weird sport, on the day any team can win. Take the relay, if one guy messes up his leg it is very costly and that is the end of the event because it is very difficult to make up a few seconds.”

Be that as it may the truth is that swimming as a sport does seem to be getting less exposure as the more traditional sports receive the bulk of the media’s attention. “You know the old forces of swimming by and large have started to fade into the background and  they seem to be focusing more on water polo than swimming. My point of view though is that if you kill off swimming you are going to kill of water polo. First and foremost they have got to be swimmers then you can teach them water polo. Take Australia for example out of their top 20 swimmers, 10 of them will be coached for swimming but the other 10 will form their water polo team,” say Nester Pierides.

Swimming Head Coach Easton has had a lot to do with the 2009 success and has enjoyed victory in every gala during the swimming season. “Definitely we can attribute our success to our depth we have had kids who are very willing to make the A side and put in the training to achieve that status.  We have plenty of kids who want to be in the A side or even make the B side so competition for places in the teams is very healthy,” says Easton. Overall 2009 has seen the competition level raised to a new level with many long standing records tumbling as the various top swimming schools took up the challenge to dominate in the swimming pool.  “Out of the 26 races in the last D & D Gala, 16 records were broken by the schools which competed which underline just how competitive swimming has become.  “Now simply to win a race at these top galas a swimmer almost has to break the record every time, “stresses Easton.

Westville at present has three age groups, U14, U15 and U17 who have never been beaten in the water in South Africa, along with that they boast two Commonwealth swimmers and some World Youth Games swimmers which make them a difficult team to beat although admittedly they are only a fraction of second ahead of the other teams.

What does strike one is that Westville Boy’s High does have a very strong swimming ethos with swimmers that are not just content to make it to the next gala but who have as a backbone,  swimmers who are looking to make swimming a career. As top swimmer Charl van Zyl who last year traveled to Mexico and India to compete says, “You know I am looking to make swimming  my job when I leave school so I don’t view it as a hobbie. I am extremely dedicated to the sport and want to achieve as much as I can. It does take time to be the best and plenty of sacrifice, for example last year I had to travel to Mexico and India where I made the final in the 200m back for the World Junior Champs and I was also able to win the 50m backstroke and also picked up medals in the 100m and 200m backstroke along with a couple of relay medals and this year was selected for the SA Schools Swimming team.  So swimming is keeping me very active and busy and my goal obviously it to make the Olympics in 2012 but in 2010 there is the Commonwealth Games which I want to be participating in.”

That type of dedication and dream is shared by his fellow team mates who seem very focused on the near future. There is  Chad le Clos for example who came 10th in the Midmar Mile and got two gold medals which included a record at the Commonwealth Youth Games in India in 2008. In addition to that the medley specialist picked up 4 golds at the SA Schools Gala this year. “I train at Mr.Price Seagulls and when I think of the future I really am hoping to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. I think I will be ready for that step up in a few years time, “says le Clos.

To hear schoolboys talking about representing South Africa at the next Olympic Games in London might seem farfetched for some but Westville Boy’s have already been able to produce an Olympic swimmer in Chad Ho who swam in the 10km marathon at Beijing in 2008 and the dream is almost in touching distance for some on the team.  “It is a really, really realistic goal! I am just 1.9 seconds off the Olympic qualifying time for the 200m backstroke and about a second off for 100m back, “ adds Van Zyl emphasizing just how strong the standard is in school swimming.

For most schools the swimming season has come to an end but for the elite school swimmers the year has just begun. Leith Shankland, who also participated in Mexico in the World Youth Champs feels confident that he is in a great position to make a bit of history, “this is just the beginning of the season for us really although at the schools there is no more competitive galas. But for Charl, Chad and myself we still have the SA Champs which is our World Champs qualifying event. The qualifying times for the World Champs is faster than the 2008 Olympic qualifying times so we are in full graft to be at our best. But I have no doubt that we are going to perform at our best. At the SA Schools Champs I was able to win the 200m freestyle and 50m fly and my highlight was breaking the 26 year old record in the 200m free. This was amazing because it was a day after my Matric dance! I was a little tired so probably could have gone faster!”

With the next Olympics a mere 3 years away South Africa will once again be hoping to send a strong swimming team who can compete and achieve what others in the past have- gold medals and world records. Will Westville’s Leith Shankland, Chad le Cros and Charl van Zyl or other Westvillians be amongst those swimmers? Only time will tell but if enthusiasm and dedication is a guide then don’t be surprised if Westville Boy’s High continues to churn out more top class swimmers. As Nestor Perides says, “ “There is a tremendous sort of raw energy in our swimmers, it has to be developed to such an extent that it is similar to a train out of control, more and more kids are climbing onto the train and managing this exuberance is the most difficult part.”

 

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