He is an Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist in the 50m butterfly event. But Roland Schoeman’s tale of glory started out unusually --- with a girl he wanted to impress. As a 16-year-old in high school, the South African took to the pool.
“There was this cute girl in the swimming team and I wanted to impress her,” he grins. Roland was successful and the couple dated for three months before her parents moved to another city. “It was short-lived,” he says. But his relationship with the pool only improved and he started swimming competitively after sometime.
“I was more interested in other sports. I played cricket for my province (Northern Transvaal). I was also on the soccer team,” Roland says. But his so-called “puppy love” inspired him to greater things, away from the pitch and into the water.
South Africa has a formidable squad of swimmers and will be up against powerhouses Australia. Roland, a triple Olympian and a former world record holder, rates the Commonwealth Games second only to the Olympics and counts Canada as a possible threat as well. “Our relay prospects look good. This is a team where I feel like I’m at home,” he says. Competing in his fourth Commonwealth Games, Roland isn’t ruling out a fifth appearance at Glasgow 2014. “I’m having fun at the moment. This could be my last, maybe not. I might go to Glasgow,” he says.
After arriving in Delhi, Roland faced some problems with electricity and posted as much on his Twitter profile: ‘Day 1 of Delhi: 24hrs no air-conditioning, most of the night spent without electricity (no fan) 4am and still haven't slept. Not the best of starts.’
And the next day was no different. ‘Day 2 - food here in the village 7/10, facilities 9/10, athletes village 6/10, accommodation -3/10 (almost 48hrs and no air-conditioning, nothing seems to get done at all) unfortunately not acceptable for a Commonwealth Games,’ he tweeted. But things finally got better when the problem was rectified on Friday night. “Two gentlemen came to fix the air-conditioning in our apartment and I finally got a good night’s sleep,” says Roland, heaving a sigh of relief.
About the SPM Aquatics Complex, Roland says, “It is a beautiful place. It’s a little cold though, but should be heated up soon. The pool is fast and I am looking forward to racing in it.” Reaching the venue takes 30-40 minutes by road and the swimmers utilise that time, earphones plugged into ipods. “We haven’t faced any hassles while commuting away from the Village because of the dedicated Games lanes. We also use that time to recharge,” Roland says.
With three Indian swimmers caught in the dope net before the Games, the sport made some infamous headlines. But South Africa has a very strict anti-doping programme. “It was a shame that someone like Alberto Contador (Tour de France champion) tested positive. That sheds bad light on sport in general,” Roland says.
The South African champion thinks that swimming, more often than not, is a clean sport. “You don’t generally find a huge number of swimmers into drugs because most of them inherently are good-natured beings,” Roland clarifies. On many occasions, an athlete takes drugs unknowingly. But if the Indian swimmers did it on purpose, Roland says the need to shine in the Games, at home, might have prompted them to. And he thinks that an athlete should be given every chance to prove his/her innocence. “'Guilty until you're proved innocent' seems to be the motto. I think it should be the other way round --- 'Innocent until proved guilty’”, he says.
Away from the pool, Roland is an avid golfer. But for some reason, he has missed out on putting at the golf simulator in the Village. “I didn’t know there was one here,” he says, looking surprised. Having just moved base to France, Roland is also busy learning the language. “I understand French better than I speak it. So I’m trying really hard to pick it up,” he says. The water baby also loves being near the ocean. “When I’m in South Africa, I really enjoy body-surfing. Anything to do with the ocean,” he grins.
A Barcelona fan, Roland avidly follows most soccer leagues in Europe and counts himself lucky enough to have seen the World Cup final between Spain and Holland. “It wasn’t a great final, I think the third place playoff between Uruguay and Germany was much better. But Spain won in the end. I couldn’t have asked for more,” he smiles.
Full name: Roland Mark Schoeman
Nationality: South African
Stroke(s): Freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke
DOB: July 3, 1980 (30 years)
Place of birth: Pretoria
2006 Commonwealth Games: Gold --- Men’s 4X100m freestyle relay, men’s 50m freestyle
Bronze --- Men’s 100m freestyle
2004 Athens Olympics
Gold --- Men’s 4X100m freestyle relay
Silver --- Men’s 100m freestyle
Bronze --- Men’s 50m freestyle