For the first time in the history of the nation, Zimbabwe is sending a Black swimmer to the Olympics.
Donata Katai, 17, won African youth titles and broke youth records once held by two-time Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry, who is not only Zimbabwe’s most successful swimmer but also Africa’s most decorated Olympian.
Though the country is 99% Black, it’s taken until 2021 for a Black swimmer to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympics.
Although, Simone Manuel’s gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was a seminal moment for Black swimmers, the American’s success also sparked a conversation about why Black swimmers are so underrepresented.
Reports have it that, that’s historically been the case in southern Africa, where the most successful swimmers — like Coventry and South Africans Chad le Clos and Cameron van de Burgh — are all white.
However, Katai has averred that lack of diversity in swimming in Zimbabwe is no longer an issue.
In an interview with newsmen, she said “There’s a lot of people of colour that take part in the sport (in Zimbabwe)”
“It’s kind of becoming normal for me in Zimbabwe. I feel like we swim in very different environments because in America there are not many people of colour that swim. In Zimbabwe, the majority of people that swim at the moment are people of colour. I guess her (Manuel’s) story would be very different from mine.”
According to reports, Katai has been swimming competitively since, and it was at the age of 6 that she realised she was pretty good at it. She’s been tracked after her talent peaked the interest of some of the country’s top coaches at the age of 8. Her family is solidly middle class, her current coach, Kathy Lobb, stressed. She is not underprivileged. And she’s the first swimmer the veteran coach has taken all the way to the Olympics.
Speaking with newsmen, Lobb said “It’s every coach’s dream to have a swimmer coming through and taking them to the Olympics”.
The history maker, Katai won gold medals in the 50-metre and 100-metre backstroke at the 2019 African Junior Championships in Tunisia. The same year, she broke Coventry’s longstanding 100-metre backstroke national youth record.