Last year, swimming star Melissa Corfe achieved a life-long dream when she qualified to compete in the Beijing Olympics. Here she sat down for a question and answer session and explained what she thought of the experience and revealed some of her future plans.
Interview conducted by Craig Lewis, of the Daily News in Durban.
CL: Where did you grow up, what schools did you attend and when did you start swimming?
MC: I grew up in Durban and I went to Durban Girls’ College. I started swimming when I was six-years old.
CL: What are some of your fondest memories of your early days as a budding swimmer?
MC: I remember swimming my very first Midmar Mile at the age of six. I swam the whole way with my mom by my side.
CL: After school, did you always know you wanted to become a professional swimmer or did you consider studying?
MC: Throughout my school years, swimming was my life. I knew that I was going to swim until I couldn’t swim anymore so studying once I’d finished school was something I really thought about. Going to the Olympics was always a dream of mine and to achieve this I had to totally focus on one thing, and that was swimming. Fortunately I was able to study part-time in 2006 at a Beauty School in Durban North which I thoroughly enjoyed and may even look into it again to further my diploma.
CL: You missed out on qualification for the 2004 Olympics by point one of a second, was that one of the most painful memories in your career?
MC: It was painful but more than anything I used it to my advantage. From having just missing the qualifying time for Athens, I was even more determined than ever before to achieve those times in 2008 for Beijing. Between 2004 and 2008 I put my head down and focused totally on achieving those qualifying times for Beijing.
CL: You then cracked a qualifying time for last year’s Beijing Olympics. How would you describe your feelings when you achieved that?
MC: As I answer this question I still get goosebumps and watery eyes. I clearly remember, it was day one of our Olympic trials, I was in the first race of the finals that evening, the women’s 400m freestyle. The qualifying time was a 4.11 and I posted a time of 4.08. I was speechless. As I touched the wall I didn’t even have to look at my time, I could hear from my coach and teammates that I had got the time. I went straight to my parents and all I could do was cry. A cry that expressed so many emotions all at once: relief, happiness and excitement among others. For the next six days I was swimming on a high. I finished off our Olympic trials being the most qualified swimmer.
CL: So, how was your Olympics experience?
MC: I swam in the 100m free relay, 100m medley relay, 200m, 400m freestyle and 200m backstroke. I was happy with my results as I had been treating a shoulder injury before the games. I was right on my personal best times which is what I expected from my first Olympics. The event was indescribable. It was everything and more that I had ever dreamt and imagined it to be. I asked many Olympians what the Olympics was like before I left but no words can explain to someone what it’s like being there. It’s a feeling that you have to experience for yourself. It was incredible, everything is world-class.┬á
CL: Were you affected by the debacle involving the sub-standard kit provision?
MC: I was disappointed, but I was able to let it be and put it behind me.
CL: How much do you think that Olympics experience will influence your career?
MC: It will most certainly have a big influence on my career. I now know what it’s all about and what to expect. One thing I can say is that I’m an Olympian. There are not many people around who can say that.
CL: What did you make of Michael Phelps’s performance?┬á
MC: I thought it was unbelievable. I can honestly say that I doubted he would get eight golds. Watching his last race that won him his eighth gold will be a memory that I will have forever. I witnessed history in the making. I watched someone achieve something that has never been done before and most probably won’t be done again. It was goosebumps stuff.
CL: What are your plans and goals for this year and the years to come?┬á
MC: My next goal is to qualify for London 2012 and I’m hoping to qualify for the World Champs which is in Rome later this year. Otherwise, just to achieve personal best times at major competitions.
CL: Which people have played a major role in your success?
MC: My parents, coach and friends.
CL: What aspects of your swimming, if any, are you looking to improve in the future?
MC: To race more events internationally.
CL: You finished fourth at the Midmar Mile this year, please describe what this event means to you?
MC: Midmar is an event I enjoy doing. It’s an open water event and is therefore not a major focus in my career as I specialise in pool swimming. I do it because it’s fun and I enjoy the racing. I’m not particularly worried about where I place as long as I feel good in the water and enjoy myself. The international competition is good to have as well.
CL: Which swimmers did you look up to when you were growing up?
MC: I looked up to an American distance swimmer, Janet Evans.
CL: What do you do in your off-time to relax?
MC: Sleep … watch movies with my friends and sleep … ha ha
CL: Do you have a life motto?
MC: Pain is temporary, success is forever!