Don’t rush greatness

In their first Olympics, in Barcelona in 1992, Penny Heyns came 33rd and 34th in her events. In his Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008, Cameron van der Burgh did not make it out of the semi-finals.

Ryk Neethling took fifth in the 1500m freestyle in Atlanta and Sydney, and eighth in the 400m freestyle in 2000. He didn’t make it out of the preliminary heats for the 200m freestyle.

Roland Schoeman went no further than the semi-finals of the 50m and 100m freestyle in Sydney, and the 4x100m freestyle team he was part of faltered at the first hurdle. Heyns, Van der Burgh, Neethling and Schoeman all won gold medals at the Olympics. Their first games were tough but necessary.

They needed to be dropped into the madness of an Olympics, a swim meet that is like no other, where the head is turned and the heart is overwhelmed. The medallists of the future often find that their Olympic success started four years before, when they learnt from failure and how to ride the intensity of the Games.

Michael Phelps finished fifth in his first Olympics. Mind you, he was only 15 at the time.

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