Zimbabwe had struggled to find female swimming stars since Kirsty Coventry, but Donata Katai seems determined to change the complexion of the sport.
The 15-year-old Gateway High School pupil continued to raise the Zimbabwean flag high when she won two gold medals at the CANA Junior African Swimming Championships in Tunisia last week.
“Donata is making things happen. She just won her 2nd Gold at Junior African Champs. Stay focused, make sure you have the right people around you, and keep pushing,” Minister of Youth Sport, Arts and Recreation Coventry said.
In Tunisia, the Form 3 student won her first gold medal, setting a new personal best after clocking 1 minute 04,63 seconds in the 100m backstroke. Her previous best was 1 minute 05,60 seconds.
She beat South African Hannah Pearse, who claimed silver in 1 minute 05,41 seconds, while Egyptian Logain Diaaedine got bronze in 1 minute 06,38 seconds.
Katai also won the 50m backstroke in a time of 30,37 seconds, while Pearse claimed silver in 30,96 seconds and Farah Amr from Egypt got bronze in 30,98 seconds.
Following her recent success at her age, sports pundits are now comparing Donata with Zimbabwe’s “Golden Girl”, Coventry.
Coventry is best known for being the only woman to have won multiple Olympic gold medals.
“If she continues to follow her own advice, she may be on her way to becoming Zimbabwe’s next swimming superstar,” said Martin Mapondera, a swimming coach.
“I am considering her age and accolades. With better facilities and a full-time sport scholarship, she will be the next big star, not only in swimming but in the sporting fraternity.”
In March this year, the teenager announced herself when she broke Coventry’s 100m backstroke African junior record in the South African National Junior Championships, winning the gold in the process in Durban.
She swam 1 minute 5,6 seconds, taking more than one & a half seconds off Kirsty’s record set in 1998.
Since then she has enjoyed more success and for that reason, Zimbabwe Aquatic Union president, Mary Kloppers, also presented Katai, with full national colours.
Meanwhile, Sharks Swimming Club coach, Kathy Lobb, said Katai’s great potential has driven them look for a scholarship to help her grow in the sport.
Lobb told our sister paper The Herald that Katai will leave for United States after she completes her O-Level studies next year.
“We realised that Donata has a great potential to become one of the best swimmers in our country.
“We are in contact with several coaches and Division One clubs who are closely monitoring her progress in the United States.
“We wouldn’t want to disturb her education focus by this scholarship issue, so we are going to let her finish her O-Level studies then she will unveil her scholarship,” said Lobb.
While Katai is showing potential at a young age, others sport analysts think it’s too early to compare Katai to Coventry.
Coventry, as an athlete and now as an international sports leader has become a role model and a huge inspirational figure to many women and young people across Africa and the world of sport following her appointment as chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission last year.
She made history at the Sydney Olympic Games by winning several medals and becoming the most successful Zimbabwean athlete at the Olympics. Coventry had been a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission since 2012 and took over from outgoing chairperson, United States ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero.
Coventry became the third successive female IOC Athletes’ Commission chair after Ruggiero and German fencer Claudia Bokel and the first chair from Africa after Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks as well as the first African woman chairperson.