At Athens she took everyone by surprise, including herself, but in the lead-up to the Beijing games she broke six world records in a matter of weeks.Then, in the Water Cube, she eclipsed world records for the 100m and 200m backstroke, breaking her own world record in the 100m semi-final only to lose narrowly to America’s Natalie Coughlin.“This feels like a really natural progression from one thing into the next,” she said.“For me, it was about figuring out how I could be a support to the athletes and then this position came up so it was good timing. I felt like this would be a great opportunity to spend some time with up-and-coming athletes and, for me, I think that having been a part of the International Olympic Committee (as the IOC Athletes Commission Representative on the Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency) for the past few years and having gone to the YOG, this seemed something that I would hopefully be able to add some value to in terms of helping the athletes achieve their goals.” The young Zimbabwean athletes could not have hoped for a more qualified chef-de-mission.I caught up with Coventry only hours after a heated exchange with her new coach brought their partnership to an abrupt end.Declaring that the noisy and public poolside split had “fired me up”, Coventry went on to swim the only Olympic A-time of the competition and win four events, before making a string of frantic phone calls to plan the rest of her London campaign.Now in Austin, Texas, and back with Kim Brackin, who coached her to back-to-back golds, Coventry is hoping the partnership will yield glory once more - if they can beat the new American high-school star Missy Franklin (see opposite page).Coventry celebrated her 17th birthday at the Sydney Games “just taking it all in – it was amazing just seeing how the top swimmers warm up and warm down”.
As he presented Ms Coventry the cash, Mr Mugabe said: "You have done well, daughter of Zimbabwe. The 24-year old swimmer, who also won three silver medals in Beijing, is expected to return to her home in the United States this weekend, after a flying visit to the country of her birth.At the Beijing Olympics six months later, Kirsty defended her 200m backstroke, winning in to reclaim the world record after Margaret Hoelzer had broken Kirsty’s mark at the US Olympic Trials in July.Kirsty Coventry is Zimbabwe’s top Olympian, having won seven of the country’s eight Olympic medals to date.She smashed the world record to win gold in the women's 200 metres backstroke.'Rare praise' BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher, based in neighbouring South Africa, says Ms Coventry is lucky her reward is in American dollars, because a suitcase of Zimbabwean currency would scarcely have bought her a loaf of bread. Take care of her." It was rare praise for a white Zimbabwean, our correspondent notes: Mr Mugabe has spent much of the last 10 years repossessing white owned farms and railing against Britain and the West.