Believe it or not, Riaan Schoeman, the 22 year old Varsity College student and 2012 Olympic qualifier, used to be scared of the water! When Riaan was 8 years old he joined a swimming club in Durban North in order to get over this fear. And get over it he did! Soon, the only thing he will be getting over is miles of ocean as he wings it to the Royal Palace in Monaco with to stay with Princess Charlene, followed by a journey to the Olympic village in London.
Riaan moved on from the Durban North swimming club to training at Kings Park in Durban, but at first he did lots of other sports as well. In grade 7, he decided that swimming was the one passion that he would follow. On the advice of his coach, Alistair Hatfield, Riaan dropped all the other sports and focused exclusively on swimming. Ever since then, his training has been absolutely intense. He has been training for two hours every morning, and two and a half hours every afternoon, along with his coach for ten years, to get to this point!
Riaan went to Durban High School (DHS) and Oakridge College, in a solid routine of swimming, school, and some socialising on the weekends. At 13 years old, Riaan won his age category in the Midmar Mile. This win gave him the taste of success and inspiration he needed to justify the intense training. The next big milestone for Riaan was the first national record that he broke at the age of 14. These successes resulted in Riaan travelling internationally for the World Youth Championships. Now, there was a new reason to keep training and keep achieving – the international travel bug hit Riaan, and doing well at swimming was a great way doorway to seeing the world.
By 2008, Riaan had not really thought about qualifying for the Olympics in Beijing, but unexpectedly he did, breaking Terence Parkins 400m medley record – once again, the hard work and sacrifice paid off with results. So Riaan went to the Olympics and placed 11th in the 400m medley, and was the second youngest there at just 18 years old. An exciting part of this experience was having Ryk Neethling and Roland Pienaar as team leaders, which Riaan says was ‘inspirational, they gave great guidance’.
Riaan Schoeman – the road to 2012 Olympics
After the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Riaan turned his attention towards his education, and his journey at Varsity College started. Riaan is studying a BCom in Industrial and Organisational Psychology and plans to complete the Degree mid-2013.
In 2009, Riaan won the Midmar Mile open event, which was a huge achievement for him. In the years building up to 2012 and the London Olympics, Riaan trained as hard as ever but also found himself branching out and experiencing other areas of life. Beside studying, he enjoyed taking up tennis as a hobby, as well as trying his hand at a few triathlons and some day trading on the stock exchange.
The next swimming milestone was a bronze medal in the 400m medley at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
The time came to shift focus to London. The training quantity and load increased, and Riaan attended a lot of international swimming camps. His observations on international training methods vs the South African experience is that the South African ‘scene’ is a lot more sociable and lifestyle oriented, whereas the international camps had a more ‘all or nothing’ approach. He feels that he benefitted greatly from the international training experience and adapted his training accordingly.
Riaan, like all sportspeople, has not only had triumph and great results. He experienced a disappointment when he only placed 9th in the 2011 World Championships, after he had been working and training really well. However, the set back was not a major one and Riaan qualified for the London Olympics in the trial in April 2012.
Riaan is staying in Durban until the 14 July, so he can finish up with his exams. He will then be joining the rest of the South African Olympic swimmers in Monaco, being hosted by South African swimmer, Princess Charlene. After a week and a half at the Palace, Riaan will fly into the Olympic Village on the 23 July, and be racing on the 28 July.
When asked what his goals for the Olympics are, Riaan says ‘I want to do better than I did in Beijing, soak up the atmosphere, support my team mates, experience London and meet up with some friends.’
The months of May and June have been stepped up in training intensity, which will taper off toward the beginning of July when training will consist of fine tuning rather than intense training, so that he is rested for the actual Olympic event.
Riaan eats very healthily and does everything in his power to stay healthy, including getting as much rest as possible. In addition to training and racing, he mentioned that the Olympic Village always involved a LOT of walking – even just to the dining hall and back! He says ‘The atmosphere in the Olympic Village is just incredible, you are surrounded by the best athletes in the world, you see Roger Federer in the apartment block next to you, and Usain Bolt at the table next to you in the dining hall!’
In summary, Riaan felt that what really has given him the platform to get this far is the support of his family, friends and coach (Alistair Hatfield). They have given up a lot for many years, taking him and fetching him and lending their unwavering support, for which he is really grateful.
When asked for advice to give other sportspeople, Riaan says ‘You can find focus when you love what you do. Without the love, it would be impossible to keep that focus. My advice is to never give up, to dream, to set goals and to work hard.’