THE race-within-a-race nature of Kirsty Coventry’s career offers up a unique storyline, one divided between present-day goals and legacy-establishing achievements.
The Zimbabwe star, on the road to her fifth Olympiad, not only has a chance to once again reveal her status as one of the sport’s current stars, but also provide a reminder that she’s an all-time great.
So, the following question is posed, primarily to reiterate just how spectacular Coventry has been since making her Olympic debut in 2000: Which women share the record for most individual medals earned during a swimming career?
Coventry is obviously one of the answers, given that the focus of this piece. The other is Hungarian great Krisztina Egerszegi, winner of consecutive gold medals in the 200 backstroke in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
When the discussion of Olympic credentials comes up, the names of Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson and Natalie Coughlin are frequently mentioned first.
Over the course of their splendid careers, each of the aforementioned women have captured 12 Olympic medals. Yet, when individual titles are measured, Coventry and Egerszegi hold the advantage, and this is an achievement not lost Coventry.
With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro only 15 months away, Coventry is working tirelessly under the guidance of David Marsh at SwimMac Carolina to land Olympic medal No. 8.
Based on the way she has raced recently, in what has widely been deemed a comeback, there’s reason to believe Coventry will be a medal factor in at least a few events in Brazil.
“I’m always motivated by an internal drive to be the best that I can be,” Coventry said in an interview with SwimVortex. “I am very competitive, so I am constantly challenging myself.
“I am currently tied for the most individual Olympic swimming medals won out of all females in the history of the Olympic Games (tied with Krisztina Egerszegi).
“My goal is to become the most decorated female swimmer with the most individual medals won in the history of the Olympic Games.”
The internal drive referenced by Coventry is undoubtedly a major reason why her career has been marked by success at every stop.Advertisement
Quest to return to the top
From excelling as an NCAA champion under Marsh at Auburn Univesity to becoming a world champion to becoming an Olympic champ, Coventry has repeatedly proven her worth.
Now, she’s on a quest to return to the top of her events, the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke, along with the 200 individual medley and 400 individual medley.
Between the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and 2008 Games in Beijing, Coventry seemingly set up a cot on the medals stand.
Her 2004 showing was highlighted by gold in the 200 backstroke, silver in the 100 back and bronze in the 200 individual medley. Four years later, there was another gold in the 200 back, complemented by three silver medals.
The hunt for additional hardware in London in 2012, though, was derailed by factors outside of Coventry’s control.
A dislocated knee and bout of pneumonia severely hampered her preparation for the Olympic Games, where she finished sixth in both the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke.
Because those finishes were not on her terms, Coventry opted to pursue another Olympiad. Some might call what she is doing now a comeback, primarily because Coventry was away from competition for two years after London.
However, the eight-time medalist at the World Championships doesn’t exactly prefer that description as she approaches Kazan world titles.
No comeback girl
“I would like to point out that as good as a ‘comeback’ sounds, this is not a true comeback,” Coventry said.
“I never said I was retiring. I do believe that without taking some time out, I would not be going for my fifth Olympics next year.
“I think it’s important for any person, regardless of what profession they are in, to take some time out and think about what they want and if they are achieving it.
“I took one year off between Beijing and London and now two years. I am married now (to Ty Seward), so obviously my career choices don’t just affect me but now my family.”
She added: “Male athletes are lucky because they get to have children and continue competing. Female athletes do not have this luxury.
“Coming sixth in both my events at London showed me just how capable I was in overcoming challenges and if I can get through what I went through in 2012, just watch what I can do in 2016. I won’t ever think I’m ahead of schedule.
“My injury and sickness in 2012 was a good reminder to use whatever time we have to move forward because we never know when we might be forced to rest. I’m very focused and I’m happy with my times, but I have a long way to go before I can say more than that.”
Coventry might have some work ahead, but the early results have been encouraging. At last month’s Mesa stop on the USA Swimming Pro Series, Coventry won the 200 backstroke in 2:12.05, took second in the 100 back (1:00.89) and finished fourth in the 200 individual medley (2:14.32).
For someone still working her way back to form, those efforts were promising.
Coventry’s next opportunity to impress arrives next week when the Pro Series shifts to Charlotte and the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Centre, her training base with SwimMac.
When Coventry decided to return to world-class training and preparation, she took time to review her options and phoned her longtime coach Kim Brackin for guidance. The conversation led to a reunion with Marsh, although Coventry indicates that Brackin remains involved in her career.
The training atmosphere at SwimMac is as good as it gets, with a who’s-who in the sport gathering on a daily basis to chase common goals.
Among those with whom Coventry trains are Ryan Lochte, Cullen Jones, Tyler Clary, Micah Lawrence and Cammile Adams. And those are just a few of the big names who push Coventry to chase her best again.
Force to be reckoned with
“I have been swimming for a long time. I have interacted with different teams from around the world and have worked with different personalities in both coaches and teammates,” said Coventry, who joined SwimMac in the Summer of 2014.
“So when I tell you that we are the best swimming team in the world right now, it’s not a biased opinion. SwimMac not only has a great coaching staff with good support from the administrators, but we have the support of the community.
“When that structure is in place and you are having the strengths of multiple Olympic swimmers coming together to train in one place, that’s a force to be reckoned with.
“We all have two common goal’s ‘get to Rio’ and ‘swim as fast as we can.’ We have a great respect for each other and we feed off each other’s energy. This in itself is helping all of us get better in and out of the pool.
“It’s great being back with David. He set up a very successful team at Auburn and is doing the same thing here. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
If Coventry eventually earns that eighth individual medal in Olympic action, it will be well earned, as her prime events are loaded with talent.
There’s Missy Franklin to battle in the 200 backstroke, with the likes of Katinka Hosszu and Ye Shiwen in the medley.
At this summer’s World Championships in Kazan, Coventry will be racing pressure-free, and with limited expectations. At the same time, she’ll have the chance to measure herself with the best in the world one year out from Rio.
On top of her training, Coventry is busy in other facets of her life. She holds a role on the IOC Athletes’ Commission and is on the Olympic Solidarity Commission, which sees that financial support benefits athletes, and looks to develop coaches and administrators.
Coventry, too, is on the Tokyo 2020 Commission, and will play a role in bringing a stellar Games in Japan.
Meanwhile, the Kirsty Coventry Trust, a charitable organization, has been launched in Zimbabwe and is focused on teaching children to swim and provide drowning awareness.
Obviously, Coventry is leading a busy life. It will be interesting to see what is written in the next chapter of her rich career. The events in Kazan will give a clue.
“I want to be in control of my races in Kazan,” Coventry said. “I’m not focusing on times, but I would like to make finals.
“At this stage, I’m not worried about who my competitors are or what they are doing. I have to focus on what I can do and if I can control that, then I will make some great things happen.”
This article was originally published by Swimvortex.com