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Tandy free to shine in Rio after double dash in Durban
- Updated: May 7, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
Head boy at primary school, head boy at high school… now freestyle swimmer Brad Tandy is heading for the Rio Olympics later this year.
The United States based sprinter nailed a 22.13 second finish in the heats of the 50-metre sprint at last month’s national aquatic championships in Durban and cemented his spot by winning the final, again within the qualifying mark of 22.27sec.
He took time out from wrapping up a MIS (Management Information Systems) degree at the University of Arizona to tell Road to Rio 2016 just what went through his mind in the King’s Park Pool.
‘After my first race I was comfortably under the qualifying time and couldn’t even begin to explain the relief I felt looking up at the board knowing I was one step closer to achieving my lifelong dream.
‘But I knew that to secure my place on the South African team I had to place first or second in the finals the following night. I was up against longtime rival and mentor, Roland Schoeman, who was trying out for his fifth Olympics.’
Tandy duly did the job, inside the qualifying mark once more, putting him top of the 50m free pile in South Africa.
Still, the reality hadn’t set in.’The amount of focus and determination took precedence over excitement. Actually, it was only a few hours later when I came to terms with what I had accomplished. And even now I still can’t believe that I have become what I am today.’
Yes, it’s a long way from Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal to Rio, Brazil, via Tucson where the Durban-born swimmer celebrated his 25th birthday early in May, right in the middle of his final exams. It’s his second degree, having already got an Associate in Arts degree at Indian River State College in Florida.
Tandy was head boy of both Egerton Primary (where he first took up swimming aged eight) and Ladysmith High where he matriculated with five A marks, not bad going for a full-time athlete. Coincidentally, his dad Steve was also a head boy, at Pinetown Boys High in KZN. Both Tandy Snr and mom Vanessa were active swimmers until high school.
He’s been guided by a variety of coaches, Ivan Ball to begin with, then Pietermaritzburg’s Wayne Ridden, on to Ryan Mallam at Indian River State College before finally settling down in Arizona with Rick de Mont who has coached all four members of the South African gold medal winning 4×100 freestyle team at the 2004 Athens Olympics – Ryk Neethling, Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend.).
During his six-year swim spell in the States, the awards and accolades have come thick and fast. He’s a 12-time National Junior Collegiate Athletes Association champion and five time record-holder. He’s also been awarded swimmer of the year and top athlete overall in the state of Florida.
Add to that he’s an NCAA 50m freestyle champion and PAC 12 (West Coast Conference) champion and record holder for that event.
Two years ago he was also part of Team South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland where he was sixth overall in the 50m free. More recently he swam US nationals in Washington late last year where he placed second in a personal record 21.87 which ranks him 11th in the world right now.
Rio was very nearly Tandy’s second Olympics. ‘I’ve had my eyes set on becoming an Olympic swimmer for most of all my life and happened to just miss the qualifying time in 2012 by 0.10sec. I was dealing with shoulder problems at the time and once I missed the qualifying time, I ended up getting shoulder surgery [to a labrum SLAP tear to the right shoulder] in the States.
‘That was a huge setback and took over eight months before I was back in the pool swimming again. I worked very hard in the hope of proving myself again in the field and coming back stronger than before.
‘It was at the NCAA’s and Olympic trials where I proved this task not only to my coaches and family but to myself.’
Going into Rio and Tandy plans on finishing up his studies while continuing to train and race. ‘I’ll meet up with the SA team a month out of Rio in order to bond and train together. We’ll then head down to Rio and adjust to the time change before hitting the Olympic village and preparing ourselves for the big show.
Going into the water meanwhile, Tandy’s trademark feature is his dive off the blocks. ‘I’ve had tons of people come up to me, knowing me for my dive,’ he smiles.
The dive is normally measured from start to the 15m mark and Tandy happens to do it faster than most in the world. ‘On a good day I think I’ve gone 4.7 seconds which is far faster than anyone else. The main reason is the speed but I do a different type of dive too. Most swimmers pull and kick off the blocks while keeping their arms under their chest before entering the pool while I throw mine over and around my body.’
When it comes to Rio, realistic is Tandy’s expectation.
‘I’m a little unsure for now. I know I can repeat another sub-22sec, 21.7 or better. If I can do this in both the morning and semi-final, I may have a spot in the finals where I hope to get as close to first as I can. It’s quite difficult since the 50 is such a close event time wise. If I make semi-finals, top 16 in the world or better I will be very proud.’
After Rio, Tandy plans to stay in the US for at least another year, training and swimming World Cups and international meetings and also helping out the Ford Swimming club team. Once he decides whether he’ll continue swimming he’ll look at stay on for another three years heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Away from the pool, and it’s very likely you’ll find Tandy crouched over a laptop as opposed to starting blocks. He admit: ‘I’m an avid gamer, I spend my time relaxing and playing PC games in my spare time with a lot of other swimmers. It’s something I’ve been doing my entire life and still enjoy it.’
Another favourite is dancing: ‘I absolutely love it and I have some rhythm according to a bunch of my friends (especially for a white boy),’ he laughs.
Come Rio and the Olympics it’s game on and Tandy will be hoping to dance to a triumphant tune!