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Old and new duo of swimmers have a common goal
- Updated: July 21, 2014
By Mark Etheridge
In swimmers Roland Schoeman and Erin Gallagher, Team South Africa at the Commonwealth Games have the extreme opposites in age and experience.
When Schoeman was taking part in his first Games in Kuala Lumpur back in 1998, Gallagher wasn’t even born yet!
Now the two find themselves in the same squad, 34-year-old Schoeman preparing for his fifth Games on the trot and 15-year-old Gallagher for her biggest day on the international stage.
How swimming has changed since Schoeman first splashed down in Kuala Lumpur.
‘It’s changed drastically and quickly,’ Schoeman reflected, poolside at the Tollcross aquatics centre this week. ‘In ’98 I swam 50.30 for the 100m freestyle for sixth place overall. Now that probably wouldn’t even make the semi-finals.’
‘Looking back to that first Commonwealth Games experience, Theo Verster was my room-mate at the holding camp in Johannesburg.’ Now, like Schoeman, Verster is part of the Team SA set-up as coach of para-swimmer Craig Groenewald.
‘I’ll never forget that first experience of the village,’ says Schoeman. ‘It was kind of a giddy feeling, seeing the New Zealand rugby sevens team, the big dining hall, all the little gifts, the international zone, the whole experience was just amazing, rubbing shoulders with greats like Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett, I felt truly blessed.’
And young Gallagher will be pleased to know that the excitement lingers.
‘The thrill never really goes away,’ says Schoeman. ‘I was telling my young team-mates Marne Erasmus and Tara Nicholas when we arrived here, that the feeling is still truly special to be in the village with the world’s best athletes.’
And the key to such super longevity?
‘Well I still feel as young as ever … I don’t think I can put it down to one specific thing.
‘I guess I’ve got good genes, which I must thank my mom and dad for.
‘Another big thing is that I was never forced to swim and compete at such intensity as is often the case. I chose myself at the age of 15 to concentrate on swimming and the motivation came from me.
‘I played soccer, cricket (I played in that PG Bison Under-13 week) and rugby. One day my coach at the time Gavin Ross, told me he reckoned I could go all the way and if I focused and dedicated myself to swimming I would be able to get a scholarship in the US and the rest is history.’
After the highs of five Commonwealth Games, will there be a sixth in the tank?
‘Well we were talking the other day and if Durban wins the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, I may have to hold on, hey,’ he laughed.
‘I’d love to be involved in some way, even if it’s in an admin capacity or in marketing or even as an ambassador.’
The old hand had this to say for the youngster still finding her feet at the highest level: ‘Soak it all in, learn from it all.
‘Don’t take things for granted but just watch everything around you and don’t be over-awed. Remember you’ve qualified for the right to be here, just like everyone else has.
‘The Commonwealth is a special, special event. Ninety percent of the world would die for an experience like this. Live it …’
As for Gallagher, she’s living her dream.
Born in December 1998 she’s currently in Grade 10 at St Mary’s in Durban. ‘I’ve been swimming since I was seven and competitively since the age of 11,’ she told Road to Rio 2016 after a light training session on Sunday.
‘So far my highlight was definitely ending second behind Karin Prinsloo in the 100m at senior nationals in Durban this year where I qualified for the Games.’
She swam 56.88 on that occasion but here at the Games she’ll be focusing more on the relays.
‘Yes, my main focus will be in the 4×100 and 4x200m relays and my hopes are to try and break my personal best in the freestyle and maybe a medal in the relays?’
As for her experience of the Games thus far: ‘It’s just been amazing… it sounds silly but it really is hard to describe. Probably the food has been my nicest experience. It’s great in the village.
‘I also love the pool and I’m feeling really good and fast in it.’
Already the ‘older’ hands have helped ease her into the Games adventure.
‘Chad [Le Clos] has helped a lot, as as Myles Brown, Roland has already helped me with my start and back home Leith Shankland was also very helpful with my gym work etc.’
Young or old … they’ll both be gunning for gold and whil Schoeman has been there on many on occasion already, Gallagher must be bold enough to believe her time will come.