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Tributes for Carla

By Mark Etheridge

Condolences poured in from around the globe on Thursday as South Africa mourned the loss of top women’s cyclist Carla Swart.

Swart, 23, was killed in a training accident in the Free State on Wednesday, hit by a truck after she had swerved to retrieve a computer that had fallen from her bike.

Labelled one of the country’s top women’s cyclists and a definite medal hope at next year’s Olympic Games in London, Swart rode to top 10 finishes at both the UCI world road championships in Australia and the Commonwealth Games in India last year.

Gideon Sam, president of South Africa’s Olympic governing body SASCOC led the condolences by saying: ÔÇ£SASCOC are devastated at this loss of one our country’s top sporting talents. Carla showed us at the world road championships in Australia and at the Commonwealth Games in India that she was well on track to being part of the team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and was a definite medal chance.”

Editor of Tread magazine, Sean Badenhorst, said: “Such a waste of talent. She was destine for international greatness as a cyclist and as a human being.”

In Australia riders for the US-based HTC-Highroad team wore black armbands during Thursday’s third stage of the Tour Down Under to commemorate Swart’s passing. Swart recently signed up for the team.

On Thursday morning Swart’s home page on the internet social site Facebook showed more than 100 message of support and commemoration, from family, friends, fellow students and cycling team-mates.

Swart, born in Graaff Reinet, was studying at Lees McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina where she also excelled in cross-country and had planned to return there after a training holiday in South Africa.

Some Facebook friends remembered Swart by posting pictures of her on their home pages.

Weightlifter Mona Pretorius, who represented South Africa at the Commonwealth Games and was a second cousin of Swart, said: “RIP my cousin Carla, I met you for the first time at the Commonwealth Games and was excited to meet you again, you will always be remembered…. Makes me scared how quick things happen….”

Fellow ace cyclist Cath Cheatley said: “Farewell mate, its been a great ride. The bunch won’t be the same without you. My thoughts are with all your family and friends over here in NZ.”

Former team-mate Karyn Bragman: “RIP Carla! You were an amazing person, friend and teammate! I am so happy that we had the opportunity to meet and become close! My prayers are with you and your family!”

Affectionately known by some college mates as “Safrica”, Swart was also remembered by team-mate Jennifer Barbi: “You will be missed Safrica! You were a great friend and teammate. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.”

It wasn’t only in sport that Swart touched the lives of others. Said Mara Katherine Abbot: “To a cyclist I truly respect and enjoy… someone who has supported institutions I value so much more than I ever have… a fabulous girl… a beautiful smile… lots of prayers and lots of love and lots of gratitude.”

Even while on her extensive travels her influence rubbed off on others. Cyclist Brian Kirschner said: “I did not know you for more than a plane ride from Millwaukee to Minneapolis, but that brief time that we shared stories of your seasoned cycling experience and me just starting out. You gave me great insight to the sport and have pushed me into doing more with it. R.I.P. Carla.”

The flame-haired sportswoman was renowned for her competitive spirit, as summed up by fellow student Jose Ramon Chavira: “Carla, I will never forget you. The one time that sticks out in my mind was freshman year when you and I were sitting on the rocks in the river by the foot bridge and we made a crazy plan so that we would never leave LMC or Banner Elk…we agreed we would help each other haha…that’s what we wanted then. I miss you. But we all know you cycling in heaven….knowing you, you and your intensity, you probably already challenge a saint to a race :-)

And cycling outfit Team TIBCO devoted their daily ride in her honour: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Carla Swart. Today we ride in honor of a bright, talented and beautiful young star on and off the bike.”