Waddell off to join the “Alabama Crimson Tide”

The 19-year-old Bloemfontein swimmer, Zane Waddell, is off to become part of the "Alabama Crimson Tide" at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Waddell joins the American school swimming programme on a scholarship organised by his long-time coach, Simon Gray (left). PHOTO: MORGAN PIEK

The 19-year-old Bloemfontein swimming sensation, Zane Waddell, is finally off to the USA where he will be honing his skills in the pool and further his education.

Waddell has been offered a swimming bursary at one of the top schools in the USA, the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

For any aspiring swimmer, America is the place to go and for Waddell it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

He made a splash in the pool last year when he dominated the Youth Commonwealth Games in Apia, Samoa, by winning four gold medals as well as two bronze.

The former Grey College pupil has been tipped by many of South Africa’s swimming pundits as the next big swimmer to come from the Republic and has also been earmarked as a future Olympian.

Waddell has attracted the interest of many of the leading swimming schools and told Voice that he even received offers from the University of Arizona and the University of North Carolina. Bloemfontein’s leading swimmer and Olympian, Ryk Neethling, attended the University of Arizona.

Apart from his Olympic gold medal and five Commonwealth Games medals (1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze), he received numerous awards and accolades, including being the nine times NCAA National Champion, Arizona Athlete of the Year and PAC-10 Athlete of the Year for four consecutive years, 1999 NCAA Swimmer of the Year, and the University of Arizona Athlete of the Century award.

Waddell said that he cannot wait to start with his studies in the USA. “For any sportsman who gets the opportunity to go to America to study and swim at the same time, it’s an opportunity you have to grab with both hands.

“I am a bit nervous and a bit sad that I’m leaving a few people behind. My expectations for America are quite high considering the amount of quality swimmers they have produced in the past, but I’m excited.”

For Waddell’s coach, Simon Gray, it’s an emotional affair letting his star swimmer take up the scholarship which he organised for him abroad. After having spent time in the USA it the 1970s, Gray realises the importance of letting the swimmer broaden his horizons.

“I’m very proud, but very sad to lose him,” said Gray. “I’m not a greedy person; I know that the foundation has been set and all he can do now is go over there and reach the next level.”
The swimmer himself is also looking forward to the real possibility of bumping into and perhaps even competing against his personal role-model, Michael Phelps, who has won his 19th Olympic gold medal.

“To have the opportunity to swim against the best swimmers in the world and some of the fastest because a lot of international swimmers go there, will be a massive learning curve.
While Waddell didn’t qualify for the Rio 2016, his sights are firmly set on Tokyo 2020. – MORGAN PIEK