CAPE TOWN: South Africa's Roland Schoeman is set to steal the limelight in the Commonwealth Games pool in Ian Thorpe's absence this month after turning his back on a big money switch to represent Qatar.
Schoeman has quietly established himself as South Africa's most successful sportsman over the past 18 months and is a candidate for at least one gold medal in Melbourne.
But it could have been different had the 25-year-old accepted a lucrative offer to switch allegiance to the oil rich Qatar. He seriously considered the move.
Schoeman, who honed his swimming skills at the University of Arizona, has been a vocal campaigner for better remuneration for South Africa's swimmers.
His exploits at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he was part of South Africa's 4x100m freestyle gold medal winning quartet, gave him a strong position to negotiate.
He eventually rejected the Qatari offer of US$750,000 per year after talking to other several high profile South African sportspeople, including golfer Ernie Els.
“I am acutely aware that South Africa is where it is today because of the sacrifice and commitment of large numbers of people over many years,” Schoeman said at the time.
“The stability and democracy we have attained thus far has not been founded on pursuing short-term gains.
“It has been based on a willingness to seek long-term solutions to promote the well being of all the people of South Africa. I believe that this should be true for me as well.”
After partnering Ryk Neethling, Darian Townsend and Lyndon Ferns to a dramatic world record of 3:13.17 in the final in Athens, he has gone on to set several individual world records.
In 2005, he set two world records in the 50m butterfly on his way to becoming the first man to break 23 seconds in the event when he clocked a blistering 22.96 in the World Championship final.
He also broke the 100m individual medley world record (52.51) and produced the second fastest 50m freestyle swim of all time when he clocked 21.69.
Schoeman will defend his 50m freestyle title in Melbourne and may race in the 50m butterfly.
He will also compete in the 100m freestyle and butterfly events. – Reuters