The Sunday Mail
YOUTH, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry has saluted child sensation Mikayla Makwabarara and backed her to grow into a world-class swimmer.
This comes as Makwabarara broke the national 100-metre freestyle record, one of a host of records set by Africa’s most decorated Olympian, Coventry, 25 years ago.
Coventry set the record in 1995 when as a raw 12-year-old, she had already begun showing greatness in the pool before she eventually raced to Olympic Gold nine years later.
Since then her national 100m freestyle record had remained intact.
But on a sunny Sunday afternoon on November 29 at Les Brown pool in Harare, that record of 1 minute, 4.34 seconds went up in smoke when incidentally yet another 12-year-old — Makwabarara — wrote her own piece of history when setting a new time of 1:03.97s.
The teenage sensation, who is on the books of Highlands Club, set the new record during the Harare provincial inter-club swimming championships.
Coventry told The Sunday Mail Sport yesterday that she had been elated by the news that another young swimmer had emerged to break her long-standing record.
“In terms of Mikayla, it is wonderful! It is great news . . . I always love getting news about my records being broken.
“That is what records are meant to be, that is what records are for, for people to aspire to and to break and push themselves.
“I’m very excited about this and about the talent this young lady is showing and just hope she continues to move forward, staying strong, staying positive. I know that there are many youngsters coming up and just looking forward to many more records being broken,’’ Coventry said.
An excited Mikayla, the last of five siblings, pointed at Coventry as one of the inspirational figures in her fledgling career.
“Since I broke the record I have been receiving a lot of messages and I am really proud of my achievements. I would one day want to go to the Olympics and I look to Minister Coventry and want to emulate what she achieved.
“Everyone at Highlands Club is really supportive and our coach is always pushing us to try and do our best and give it our all,’’ Mikayla said.
Although she is a multi-talented athlete who has represented her school in gymnastics and hockey, it is Mikayla’s milestone has left her father Brian Makwabarara and the family purring.
Yet the Harare businessman, by his own admission, had at first underestimated the magnitude of his daughter’s achievement.
“As a father, I was very proud of her. On the day of the race, she had qualified in the morning heats with a very good time and when I took her home for lunch I told her that she was just a second away from breaking the national record.
“Being the calm person that she is, she was in a very good space and she was also in the running for another record in the Butterfly.
“So when I posted on some WhatsApp groups to some friends and a couple of relatives, I didn’t think it was that big but now I am seeing from the reactions I have been getting that what she did was indeed massive,’’ Brian said.
He revealed that his family was ready to pull all the stops to assist Mikayla realise her dreams to not only eclipse national records, but emulate Coventry’s regular podium finishes.
“This is not the first time that Mikayla has done well in the pool. At the age of 11, she represented Zimbabwe as a member of the 14 and under a team that won gold at the Ekana meet in Botswana.
“Earlier this year at the inter-provincials she was also a champion of her age group winning 48 of the 50 points that were at stake.
“So what she did on that Sunday (on November 29) was no fluke,’’ Brian said.
The proud dad, who together with the late Peter Lovemore used to hog the limelight for horse-racing commentary at Borrowdale racecourse, said Mikayla, a Bishopslea School learner, was making her family proud from the academic front.
“She is multi-talented and has represented her school in hockey and athletics. Academically she is also an A-class student and we are proud of that too,’’ Brian said.
Mikayla’s coach, Michael Cocks, said although it might be early days he believes that she is destined for bigger accolades.
Cocks, with nearly 30 years of coaching experience that has groomed a lot of Zimbabwean swimmers, reckoned that Mikayla deserved to be respected for her feat.
The veteran coach, who together with Michael Ranken have made it their business to groom swimmers, also singled out the trio of Limbikani Kalipengule, a 12-year-old boy, 17-year-old Paige Van der Westhuizen and 16-year-old Tanatsirwa Chitsaruwa as some of the brightest prospects for Zimbabwe.
“It is too early to say a lot on someone at 12 years but my comment as a coach is that when any Kirsty Coventry record is broken that swimmer deserves some respect.
“It is my second year working with Mikayla and I must say Limbikani and Mikayla have a bright future. As far as I know, Paige is on the list for the Tokyo Games swimmers, she went to the World Championships in Korea last year,’’ Cocks said.
Given that the Zimbabwe Aquatic Union have a knack of catching their swimmers at a very young age and have a strong junior base, Cocks just like Brian and the queen herself Coventry, cannot be faulted for daring to dream and believe that Mikayla is destined for greatness.