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SA swimming stalwart Loots calls time on a lengthy career
- Updated: December 28, 2012
When SASCOC President Gideon Sam wanted to gee up Team South Africa for the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo he knew exactly who to turn to: One of the stalwarts of SA swimming down the years.
That woman was Mandy Loots, and Sam told the assembled team at the dusty Games Village to look to Loots for any inspiration. ÔÇ£Mandy, you and I have been through a lot down the years in swimming so I’m looking at you to set the tone,ÔÇØ he smiled.
Just over a year down the line and three-time Olympian Loots has now come to the end of the line as far as competitive swimming is concerned and December’s World Short-Course Championships in Istanbul, Turkey were her last international event and she’s now officially retired from a lengthy career. In local waters she was as competitive as ever, taking three gold medals at the 2012 SA Short Course Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Road to Rio 2016 Managing Editor Mark Etheridge asked the 34-year-old to put her feet up and look back over those powerful butterfly-honed shoulders at a career that brought her such pride and joy.
Tell us about the early years?
“I was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe then moved to South Africa in 1983.┬áWe settled┬áin Edenvale and I’m still in the same house to this day.”
Give us a quick breakdown on those early years, when you first started swimming competitively and what was the first major race you won?
“I started swimming training with Dean [Price] and his mom Janet from the age of eight. I┬áfinished┬áa close second to a girl who trained at my school gala. Her mom┬áintroduced┬áme to Dean. Once I started training Dean got me involved in galas. The first major race I won was winning the 400m IM from lane eight at Transvaal champs (now CGA champs).”
How many SA swim championships have you been to now, if you can remember them all (there are so many) and which one(s) stand out? And what about the international events?
“I’ve competed at 21 national champs ÔÇô┬áthe most of any SA swimmer. Ryk Neethling was on 17. I think the one that stands out the most to me was the 1996 Olympic trials. I had to win the 100m butterfly to make the team for the 4x100m IM relay. It was a very close race with Renate du Plessis. Winning that put me on the relay team with Marianne Kriel (backstroke), Penny Heyns (breaststroke) and Helene Muller (freestyle). I’ve also been to three Olympic Games, three Commonwealth Games, three World Champs and four All Africa Games.”
Of the Olympic Games, which were your favourite (and for what reason) and your least favourite ÔÇô if there was such a thing?
“It’s very difficult to say which Olympic Games was better. Each one is special in it’s own way ÔÇô bringing the spirit of the host country alive and showcasing the true story of the host country. Atlanta will always be special though because it was my first one. Walking into the stadium for the opening ceremony will be a memory I’ll always carry in my heart. Then watching my┬áteammates┬áPenny and Marianne winning medals and then coming an┬áagonizing┬áfourth place in the relay.”
When did you decide to call it quits on your career and was there any particular reason?
“Unfortunately my body is struggling to keep up with my competitive mind so it was becoming very frustrating to not achieve the times my mind believed I could. I’m a very dedicated person so while I was competing I had no room for anything else. I was finally ready to put my swimming on the backseat and open doors to new things. To be honest, selectors were making age a huge issue and I was getting tired of fighting for any selections.”
Who (parents, coaches, team-mates) has had the most influence on your career and in what way?
My parents have always been a huge support system in my swimming career. From driving me to training before I could drive, to attending most of my swimming galas. Whatever was needed to help me achieve my goals… they would do it for me. They have made great┬ásacrifices┬áto help me in whatever was needed, to get me to training, or local and national competitions and to compete in international competitions. Without them I would never have been able to live my dream!”
Over the years who has been your favourite swimmer (SA and international) and for what reason?
“Internationally┬ámy favorite swimmer is Therese Alshammar from┬áSweden┬ábecause not only is she a butterfly swimmer like me but she is a year older than me and I have just enjoyed following her career. Nationally it’s much harder to pick because they’re all my friends. It is always great to be on a team, supporting your teammates when they win medals and singing the national anthem while they are on the┬ápodium.”
Now that you won’t be part of it any more, how would you put the state of SA swimming now? Is it healthy, are there future stars coming through and in your experience, who are the names to look out for that we may not have heard of yet?
“Unfortunately the state of swimming in SA is not in good form. Swimming SA needs to get a big sponsor to help get young swimmers out to compete in international┬ácompetitions┬áso that they get the experience and belief that they can compete with the rest of the world. I think we have the young talent out there, it just needs to be┬ánurtured┬áinto the champions.”
Apart from swimming what do you do for a living ÔÇô and what are you going to be getting up to now that you aren’t training as much?
“I teach little ones swimming. I love passing on my knowledge of the sport I love to the little kids. It’s my goal to start up my own swimming school.”
And the funniest moment you ever experienced (yourself or someone else) in your swimming career?
“I can’t think of one particular funny moment but it’s just great to remember the laughs I’ve shared with my friends, teammates and roommates through the years. It was always fun trying to come up with a prank to play on some of the guys. Myself, Melissa Corfe, Kathryn Meaklim and Chanelle van Wyk were called the Fab4 because we always hung out together on trips and I remember that once we put a huge┬ápot plant┬áin┬áCameron’s┬á[Van der Burgh] room while he was out.”
So, while the women known in local swimming circles as Madame Butterfly may well have hung up her wings, with her desire to put back into the sport the pools of experience she has gained over the years, means that Swimming South Africa could do worse than draw on her experience to gee up the next generation of stars.