Sportpulse.net recently had the opportunity to do a Q & A with Namibian Swimming sensation Liezl van Zyl. One cannot be faulted for mistaking her for some runway model or glam girl when passing her by on the street, but the 23 year old is such a multi-facetted character that it would only be wrong to stereotype her in that mould.
Representing her country at the All Africa Games at the ripe age of 16 set the tone for an already very successful career as she went on to win Silver in 2007 & Bronze in 2011. Fluent in German, English and Afrikaans, an avid football player and Swansea FC supporter, she’s a speed junkie, doesn’t mind a bit of cheeky banter and will eat & drink anyone under the table, or so she says. With plenty of medals and trophies to compliment her swimming resume, Liezl is still working towards the World Championships and hopefully Olympics in 2016.
Like any professional athlete Liezl has a rigorous training schedule, between globetrotting to and from events and completing her degree in Political Sciences at the University of Cape Town the blonde bombshell still manages to have some fun. Every superhero has an origin and that’s where we will start.
SP: Was it tough growing up in a country like Namibia?
LvZ: Tough place to grow up? I wouldn’t say so, no. Then again, I wouldn’t know if it’s tougher or easier than other places.
SP: How long have you been swimming competitively?
LvZ: Since I was 8, so… 15 years.
SP: Who got you started on swimming?
LvZ: My grandparents trained me until I was 13
…which in hindsight was borderline abuse. They were never over competitive. It’s just I wanted to be the best, so they helped.
SP: Any obstacles to overcome in that part of the world?
LvZ: Pools didn’t open before 9am most days in Swakopmund
long story short… the Skeleton Coast is frigid.
SP: What did you do after finishing school?
LvZ: I spent 1 year swimming in the US at the University of Southern California 2008-09.
SP: Any special memories you would care to share?
LvZ: I’d say beating some Aussie Olympians from other schools, though I’ve had my ass handed to me on a platter a few times.
SP: How does American sports stack up against those in Southern Africa?
LvZ: American Football is mental. 80000 people for ‘just a normal game’. But to me ‘big’ will always be Newlands in Cape Town where I support my rugby team, Western Province/ Stormers.
SP: A swimmer/model that likes rugby. Tell us more.
LvZ: Love watching Western Province, we have some decent club teams in Namibia: Wanderers, Kudus, United, Hamiltons, Suburbs.
SP: Your take on Rugby League?
LvZ: Rugby League is, and yet is not Rugby. Russell Crowe owns a rugby league club, which should tell you everything you need to know about the game.
SP: A little birdie told us you are quite the driver, care to share a story?
LvZ: I went to Laguna Seca racetrack a couple of months ago, and managed to survive the corkscrew. It’s a blind turn, make that left, then go down…You literally hold your breath. I’m a speedy/dangerous driver, and I’ve had people say I attack it “fearlessly”. Even then, it scared the daylights out of me. Apparently Jeremy Clarkson (from Top Gear fame) did a time in 1:57. I did 1:39 on my best time… want to know the lap record which made me feel so inadequate? 1:05.
Though the corkscrew is truly terrifying, you can’t truly appreciate how tall and winding this thing is until you’re there.
SP: Any other circuits worth mentioning?
LvZ: The Österreichring is an amazing circuit; The Nürburgring is a death trap. I know Kyalami in Johannesburg, like the back of my hand.
SP: Have you ever tried any other sports like waterpolo?
LvZ: I stick to the lanes. I’m a sprinter. 100m and 200m are my events.
SP: Your thoughts on Rebecca Adlington retiring earlier this year?
LvZ: She does 400m and 800m…typically past 23 or 24 you can’t keep the stamina, although Kirsty Coventry (Zimbabwean Olympic swimmer) is 29 and she still kicks ass. My events are sprints… you can keep those up until you’re 30.
SP: I’m sure you got some swimming gossip for us?
LvZ: I’d rather not elaborate; let’s just say I’ve seen close to 140 female swimmers naked in 3 days, sharing facilities etc. It comes with the territory I suppose.
SP: Any other swimming related stories that your fans perhaps haven’t heard?
LvZ: I won Gold at a competition in Czech Republic, they didn’t have the Namibian anthem so they played ‘Die Stem’ (Old South African anthem) I sang along, trying not laugh.
SP: Speaking of Namibia, how often do you go home?
LvZ: I try and go about every two months when possible. It’s just such a mission. About 2 solid days, drive for about 12 hours on day one, sleep it out, maybe 10 hours on day two. I’ve gone 50-75 km without seeing any other cars.
SP: That is some trip. Thanks for your time Liezl, I’m sure our readers will appreciate the insight you have given us. Good luck with your endeavours we hope to see you on that Olympic podium in 2016.