By Mark Etheridge
Just over a week ago, Jarred Crous was just one of more than a hundred Rio Olympic hopeful qualifiers lining up in the hope of meeting the qualifying standards.
A week later, and the teenager who grew up in the Eastern Cape suffering from acute Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suddenly finds that all the attention is on him!
And rightly so after his 2min 11.65sec second spot squeaked inside the 200-metre breaststroke qualifying mark by the narrowest of margins, 0.01sec to be exact.
Right now he’s in the perfect place to digest the magnitude of the moment, at his grandfather’s farm just outside Bisho in the Eastern Cape, a location he says is ‘just my happy place’ and where he forges handmade knives and even a sword
Thinking back to a week ago he says: ‘It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I was thinkIng to myself the other day, “I’ve actually qualified” and got a strange feeling inside, like it was all still a dream. So it hasn’t sunk it at all yet but I’m sure after our training camp in Mauritius everything will become real.’
Making his qualification all the more remarkable is that he’s only been with current coach, Pretoria-based Georgian Igor Omeltchenko for the last eight months after switching from Michelle Vlasakova.
‘The build-up to nationals was quite something. Igor has done something amazing with my swimming ability. We started working from when I got there and he’s always believed in me. The actual build-up was hectic, training was really tough especially working on the second 50 of my 100m as we we thought this was going to be the event I would qualify for but after the disappointment of the 100 final Igor came over to me and we spoke for a long while.
‘He told me to put this behind me and focus on the 200, and said, yes we haven’t trained for it but he believed that I had what it takes to swim the qualifying time. This completely changed my mindset and helped me to stay positive. It always helps when you have someone who believes in you and can encourage you.’
The call room before the longer breaststroke event found Crous calling on God for extra strength to get him through the extremely gruelling event.
‘Especially the third 50m is tough, both physically as mentally. During the race I just focused on trying to keep on Cameron’s [Van der Burgh] wave as I knew that he would be pushing to swim a faster time than he did in the semi-finals. And as we pushed off the wall going into our last 50 I saw I was right on his hips.’
This helped me push even harder, but at the same time trying to keep composure with regards to my stroke, not to spin In the water and lose feeling. When I touched the wall I had no idea that I had actually qualified yet.’
But father Juan was under no illusions as to the mark his boy had beaten and gave him a huge bear hug.
The sporting genes run strongly through his blood. ‘There’s definitely sporting history in my blood, my dad Juan played on the wing for the Natal rugby side back in his day and used to do 100, 200 and 400m on the track.
‘He was pretty quick. His best time was 10.4 in the 100 which is still quite a respectable time even these days.’
Crous was part of Team South Africa at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, Russia where he had one of the better results of the SA swimmers, placing fourth in the 50m breaststroke.
Two years later and he’s making the step up to seniors. ‘It is quite something to think about, I haven’t been to Commonwealth Games or World Championships yet, straight to the biggest sporting competition in the world, but, I’m going to go there and do my best to make my family, friends and country proud.
‘Look anything can happen at the Olympics, but my goal is to be competitive, not to just compete but to be able to race amongst the best swimmers the world has ever seen.
Looking back to the early days and it was East London coach Joe Hillstrom who advised Crous’ mom Charlene to try skipping and swimming instead of medication to fight the ADHD. ‘I was only seven when I started training and it was Joe who got me to swim breaststroke and force me to glide in the water and it has stuck ever since. My first gala was in Port Elizabeth where I won a gold for the 50m breast.’
It was after that gala and gold that his dad put the question to him: ‘Where to from here my boy?’
The reply? I told him I want to swim the Olympics one day. And my parents have done everything in their power to get me to where I am now.’
The driving force behind ‘Team Jarred are his parents, brother Austin (17) and older sister Jocelyn. ‘No matter how things are going they are always there to support me, always there to pick me up when I’m down. And always there to give me advice in times of need.
‘My brother is my best friend, we do almost everything together, and no matter what we will always have each other’s backs.
‘My sister is 25 in December this year and she just loves caring for people, she loves buying me little things even something like a simple little chocolate. It always means a lot to me.
‘And then there’s my best friend Ryan Sam who’s also always been there for me. We met in Grade 7 when I moved schools to Sutherland High in Pretoria he and has always been supporting me and being there for me.’
As for the ADHD. ‘Well, I still have it but as we get older we find things that help keep it at bay, things which we do to control it.
‘But yes, I do have to keep myself busy all the time. Whether it is carving a piece of wood or making a knife or even just twiddling my thumbs, any movement is better than just sitting still.’
Come 9 August in Rio and should he make it through to the finals of the men’s 200m breaststroke, one thing’s for sure – ‘Team Jarred’, Team South Africa and the whole of South Africa will be anything but still and the only sitting will be on the edge of their stools or couches!
Pictures of Crous courtesy of Anesh Debiky/Swim SA