SWIMNEWS ONLINE: August 1996 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmstaedt

Never in her life did Marianne Kriel think she could win an Olympic medal.

The 24-year-old South African had the performance of her career on July 22 when she broke her own national record to take the bronze in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:02.12.

Inspired by teammate Penny Heyns' gold medal the night before in the 100 breaststroke, Kriel said, "It was really the most amazing moment of my life when I touched and I realized I was actually third."

"It's like a dream come true," she added, "I was just praying on the second length, please God, just give me a miracle, and it happened."

Kriel's progression has been painfully gradual at times but she stuck with the sport because she kept improving, if only by small increments. The Olympic medal comes at the end of her career and Kriel says, "No one believed it. A lot of people on the team said to me, 'Penny is the superstar and everyone was expecting that of her'. But I'm just one of the other people and the fact that I could get a medal has motivated them because now they think maybe they also have a shot at it."

A bit of a domino effect that she hopes will bode well for South Africa.

Not only did Kriel's perseverance pay off for her, but two other teammates, rookies Amanda Loots and Helene Muller, got their own "shot at it" joining Kriel and double gold medalist Heyns in the 4x100 medley relay.The South African team was shut out of the medals by China, but their fourth place time of 4:08.16 was an African and national record. As the first South African relay finalists since 1956, they have truly ended the hiatus in their country's Olympic swimming history.

Kriel, who has studied at Southern Methodist University (TX) and at Stellenbosch University in the Cape Province, trains in a 25 m pool at the brand new Newlands Sport Institute near Cape Town. Her coach, 70-year-old Clara Aurik, sat in the stands with Kriel's ecstatic parents during her backstroke race. Kriel's parents were given airline tickets by South Africa's National Sports Council, and Kriel says, "The support is starting to come through. It's wonderful that they could be here."

A born-again Christian who feels that her faith is a stabilizing factor in her life, Kriel's undying motivation came from the love of the sport itself. "The feeling you get after a good training session is just indescribable," she says, "especially sometimes when I feel terrible when I get up...you get into the pool and have a really good session and it just helps you feel good about yourself. It also helps you treat other people with respect, because you respect yourself. You know you've accomplished something." But she does admit to needing a lot of things to distract her, unlike her teammate Heyns.

Kriel thought a miracle would be needed for a medal
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

"Penny is such a superstar, she's so balanced and focused...(swimming) is her life right now and that's understandable because she's the best in the world," says Kriel.

"But for me, I have so many other interests and I fall in love so easily..." she laughs. "I like guys...we have some really nice guys on our team and it relaxes me to spend time with them and talk with everyone, while Penny's good at just focusing."

"I can't do that, it makes me too nervous," she adds. "If I just thought about swimming I think I would have had it by now."

Kriel has a degree in Industrial Psychology and speaks Afrikaans, English and some German. "Getting back to her life" will involve working in public relations. "Hopefully as some kind of a promotions manager for a hotel or tourism, because in Cape Town that's really taking off now," Kriel says. "I need to work with people. I like organizing things and I am disciplined, so that's the direction I'd like to go into."

One of her first tasks will be as a spokesperson for a national Development campaign designed to get young people out of gangs and using their energy in sport. With her usual enthusiasm Kriel says, "That's going to be a huge thing and I'm just looking forward to putting back into the sport some of the things I got out of it."

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