OLYMPIC REVIEW61How has the Solidarity programme helped you?The Olympic Solidarity programme helps hugely. Lastyear, for example, I was having financial troubles and I had to work to be able to pay my bills and to continuetraining. I couldn't travel to the African Championshipsbecause I had to work, so the Solidarity programmehelped to pay my way and participate in competitionsand events I wouldn't otherwise be able to attend. So it has effectively allowed you to continuechasing your dream?It's always been my dream to achieve something insport, representing Senegal. There are not many blackAfrican swimmers, but I've persisted by telling myselfthat we will make a breakthrough. Olympic Solidarityhas allowed me to follow my dream.Tell us about swimming in Senegal.It's not the national sport in Senegal, that's for sure.But we're starting to make real progress. Ever since I began competing at the top level, one of myobjectives has been to help develop swimming inAfrica - not just Senegal - to educate and inspire kids so that they start swimming and understand whatswimming is all about.How hard is it to grow up as an ambitiousswimmer in Africa?Many countries in Africa don't have swimming poolsor adequate facilities. Swimming is also a hard sportand you have to be passionate about it if you want to succeed. It certainly won't make you a millionaire, andmost athletes want to make a living. We do itbecause we're passionate about the sport, not for the money.Do you think your success has helped changepeoples' attitudes?I've been African champion twice and medalledseveral times, which is something our national sport(football) hasn't succeeded in doing. It shows thatswimming is starting to progress. And there are a fewyounger swimmers who are starting to come up theranks and show some good results. It's promising for the future.You competed at the Sydney Games in 2000. How did that come about?I was invited to Sydney to take part and ever sincethen it has been my objective to qualify for theOlympic Games by my own right. The experience ofseeing big swimmers in the flesh really motivatedme. It was my first real international meet and it did me a lot of good, in the sense that I got to meetsome big champions and to better understand the culture of swimming. I came to the sport quite late, at 13 years old. Sowhen I was in Sydney two years later, I saw thetimes everyone was doing and that's when I realisedthe work I had in front of me.You are arguably Africa's strongest swimmer, buthave you made noticeable progress?In Beijing I swam 1:02, so I'm getting steadily better.It really brought me up to international level. The best swimmers in the world do the 100mbreaststroke in one minute. Last year I swam a personal best of 1:01 withoutreally having a solid training base under my belt, so I hope that in London I can keep going and get a real result. How do you maintain your motivation?I've always loved swimming. I left everyone behind in Senegal to follow my dream. It's a very personalthing; I know I've got something to offer the sportbecause I know what I'm capable of. The day I dosomething at the Olympic Games, I'm sure all ofAfrica will sit up and take notice, and that's going to help inspire a lot of kids in Africa to take up swimming.
62OLYMPIC REVIEWOLYMPIC SOLIDARITYHow did you get started in judo?My older brother had started to train, and I was jealous of him. I didn't want him to be stronger thanme so I begged my parents to let me try! Eventuallythey gave in, and so it all began. I'm now 17 years old and competing in junior competitions in the 57kg category. What are the main attributes needed to be asuccessful judoka?There are various strengths you need and, of course,people are all different, but my guess is that everyjudoka needs to be mentally tough. That is one of themost important things in this sport. How is the Olympic Solidarity scholarship assistingyour training and Olympic dreams?Thanks to the Olympic Solidarity scholarship I can takepart in more events across Europe and even in otherparts of the world. I can now afford to travel to trainingcamps, which I was not able to do previously - thismeans my preparation is much better for competitionsand I can achieve better results.What is your training programme like?I train with both the girls and boys at my judo club -most are older competitors though some are a similarage to me. I train twice daily. Morning training consistsof running, strength exercises and judo practice on the mats. In the afternoon, I concentrate on exercisetechnique, agility and the mental side of things - howto concentrate during a bout. Three times a week I go to aerobics classes and once a week I do heavyweights in the gym.Have you set yourself any targets for the Games in London?Assuming I achieve the required number of points toqualify for the Olympic Games, then you can be surethat I want to win a medal in such an important event.Although I am only young, I think that I can representmy country with honour.Have you been to London before?No, I have not had a chance to visit the city but I hopeto go there in the near future and if not, then definitelynext year for the Olympic Games.What goals, if any, have you set yourself for your career? I would like to be somebody that my country can beproud of, and to enjoy as long a career in this sport aspossible. I wish that in 10 years' time my name will be synonymous with the sport of judo!Who were your Olympic heroes or role modelswhen you were growing up? At first I did not have any role models but since I started as a judoka with dreams of competing in the Olympic Games, Teddy Rinner of France - who has won the World Championships for the last three years - has become one of my biggest role models.