The predominately Black country has previously only been represented by white swimmers in the Olympic Games.
The southern African nation of Zimbabwe is sending a Black swimmer to the Olympics, the first from her country to go the Games. Seventeen-year-old Donata Katai won African youth titles and broke youth records once held by two-time Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry, who is not only Zimbabwe’s most successful swimmer but also Africa’s most decorated Olympian. Tokyo is probably too early for the teenager to succeed Coventry in the way she really wants, by stepping onto the Olympic podium.
But, for now, Katai does represent a deeper breakthrough for Zimbabwe. Her country is 99% Black and it’s taken until 2021 for a Black swimmer to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympics. Simone Manuel’s gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was a seminal moment for Black swimmers. But the American’s success also sparked a conversation about why Black swimmers are so underrepresented.
That’s historically been the case in southern Africa, where the most successful swimmers — like Coventry and South Africans Chad le Clos and Cameron van de Burgh — are all white. It’s maybe starker because they come from majority-Black countries. But while swimming in the United States might be still struggling to diversify, Katai said it isn’t anymore in Zimbabwe.
“There’s a lot of people of colour that take part in the sport (in Zimbabwe),”
“It’s kind of becoming normal for me in Zimbabwe. I feel like we swim in very different environments because in America there are not many people of colour that swim. In Zimbabwe, the majority of people that swim at the moment are people of colour. I guess her (Manuel’s) story would be very different from mine.”