African gets heroine’s welcome

Around 2,000 ecstatic Zimbabweans rolled out a red-carpet welcome to swimmer Kirsty Coventry, the country’s first-ever triple Olympic medal winner. Coventry won gold, silver and bronze in swimming at the Olympics in Athens, and has been hailed at home as a heroine and inspiration to this southern African nation’s 12 million people. Hundreds of people waved flags or held placards, one of which read, «Welcome Home Our Princess of Sport.» «This is awesome!» the 20-year old Coventry said to the crowd through a public address system after her arrival home from Greece. «I want to thank you all so much for your support.» The turnout of fans, mostly black Zimbabweans, temporarily dispelled racial overtones inherent in Zimbabwe today, where whites get bad press in the state media for their perceived support of opponents to President Robert Mugabe’s government. Shortly after her arrival, Coventry addressed a press conference flanked by the chairman of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, Paul Chingoka, and Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere, who said the young white woman was an ambassador of the country and would be given a diplomatic passport. «I am here to welcome back home one of the greatest ambassadors of Zimbabwe,» said Chigwedere. He said the swimmer would meet the 80-year-old head of state at a reception at his official residence in Harare later yesterday. Coventry, who wore her three medals, said she was proud to have represented her country at the Olympic Games. She said there were still more goals to achieve, and she was looking ahead to 2008. «My race strategies I need to improve on, so I can go faster; I have the medals, but I don’t have the world records yet,» she said. Coventry won a gold medal for the women’s 200m backstroke, a silver for 100m backstroke and the 200m individual medley bronze medal. Her victories have pushed swimming to the forefront of national attention here after it had long been considered an elitist, and mainly white, sport. Coventry, who leaves the country again Saturday for the United States, where she is studying at Auburn University, in Atlanta, left the airport in a top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz provided for her use while in the country. (AFP)

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