Ryk Neethling is one of the most successful South African swimmers of all time, and an athlete who has proved his worth in the water time and again on the international stage. Most people will immediately remember his performance in the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece, where he brought home gold and broke the world record in the 4x100m freestyle.
He was born in Bloemfontein and raised in a tightly knit family by his parents Ryk and San-Marie. He has two sisters, Elsje and Jean-Marie. Ironically, Ryk had a near-fatal drowning incident when he was six years old, which prompted his parents to send him to water safety lessons. Once confident, he began to love swimming and dominated in competitions at a national level.
At age 17, Ryk was recruited by several colleges in America, but because one of his first choices could not guarantee him a swimming scholarship, he ended up at the University of Arizona. There, his athletic career was unparalleled.
He was a nine-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) national champion – the second most that was awarded in history – and he was voted Arizona Athlete of the Year and PAC-10 Swimmer of the Year for four consecutive years. In 1999, the NCAA named him Swimmer of the Year, the highest honour in intercollegiate swimming.
Ryk has since represented South Africa and won medals in four consecutive Olympic Games, the most in South African history. Staying loyal to his roots, in 2005 Ryk turned down a multimillion rand contract offered to him by the Qatar Olympic body to change nationalities and swim for Qatar at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He recently released his autobiography entitled Chasing the Dream, where he details his time in the US, his sister’s battle with brain tumours and extensive surgery, the highs of winning gold at the 2004 Olympics, his experiences at the 2008 Olympics, and the shady world of steroids in sport.