Her desire to represent her country at an Olympic Games was so great that swimmer Marianne Kriel gave up a bursary at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, soon after sport sanctions against South Africa were lifted to return to South Africa in the hope that she would be included in the 1992 Olympic team to Barcelona.
No sportspeople based abroad would have been considered for the team.
“I had dreamt about competing in the Olympic Games since I was little – even when sanctions against South Africa were so severe that we couldn’t even get the rights to broadcast international sports events. My dad’s secretary, who was originally from Holland, would bring us video cassettes and we would watch them months after the Olympic Games had taken place.”
She enrolled for a BA degree in Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University (SU) soon after her return.
“It was difficult to study and follow a strenuous training programme. The residence matron of Nerina had to get up early in the morning to unlock the door for me so that I could go and train. I was always tired, always hungry. But my studies and friends in Stellenbosch also ensured that swimming did not take over my life. It gave me balance and taught me to practice time management and to prioritise.”
After being selected for the Olympic team, she had to arrange with her lecturers that she would be away for a month. Although most of her lecturers were accommodating, one asked her: “Miss, do you think you have your priorities straight?” Marianne recalls with a laugh.
The 1992 Olympic Games is one of the highlights of her life. Former president Nelson Mandela was in the crowd when she broke the SA and African record in her main item, the 100m backstroke, and moved up from 33st to 10th in the world.
“Afterwards, he asked me to join him and told me how proud he and the country were of me,” she remembers.
Four years of hard work lay ahead before the next Olympic Games in 1996. Not only did Marianne graduate in 1995, but she also knew that she would retire after the Games in Atlanta and she wanted to reach the final of the 100m backstroke item, at least. She, however, surpassed her own expectations and won a bronze medal – one of South Africa’s five medals at those Games.
“I must have been the most elated bronze-medal winner at the Olympic Games!” she laughs.
“Up until today it gives me a way to connect with children. They don’t know who I am but can associate with the story that a dream coupled with hard work can lead to a reward. I enjoy encouraging young people to use and develop their talents.”
Marianne recently moved back to South Africa after working as an administrator at Go2Church in the USA for 12 years. She joined Paarl Girls High as swimming coach in October.
“I feel I was born in South Africa for a reason. I would love to make a difference here,” she says.
- By Pia Nänny -