Olympic swimmer Coventry new minister of sport in Zimbabwe
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Kirsty Coventry, a former Olympic champion swimmer and a current member of the IOC’s executive board, was appointed minister of sport in Zimbabwe on Friday.
The 34-year-old Coventry was vice president of the Zimbabwe Olympic committee. She also chairs the IOC’s athletes’ commission.
She was appointed to Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cabinet as minister of youth, sports, art and recreation in a surprise move. Mnangagwa won elections in July after replacing longtime ruler Robert Mugabe last year when Mugabe stepped down.
Coventry won gold medals in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and also has four silvers and a bronze, the most Olympic medals by an African athlete. She shares the record of most individual medals by a female swimmer at the Olympics with Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary.
Coventry retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, her fifth Olympics, having won seven of Zimbabwe’s eight all-time medals. The other was gold by the women’s field hockey team at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.
She faces challenges in her new role with the governing bodies of Zimbabwe’s two most high-profile sports, soccer and cricket, in financial ruin after years of mismanagement and alleged corruption by politically connected administrators under Mugabe.
“She is a sportsperson and knows about sport, being a person who has been there and done it,” former Zimbabwe cricket captain Tatenda Taibu said. “I know her personally and I know that her heart is in the right place.”
Coventry is known as the country’s “golden girl” for her Olympic success and was given $100,000 by then-president Mugabe after winning four medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, a huge prize for a Zimbabwean athlete. She gave much of the money to charity.