TELEGRAM: Hounds swimming coach talks about non-Olympic experience

August 13, 2008

Olympians at heart, if not on field



Stuart Cromarty (Assumption College women's swimming coach/pictured right) was a standout swimmer for the South African national swimming team.

Alan Jacobs was a standout field hockey player in that country.

Both men had the talent to be Olympians, yet neither was allowed to fulfill that dream.

Both were victims of the South Africa apartheid system. As a person of color, Mr. Jacobs was not permitted, under apartheid, to be a member of the national team.

As a member of South Africa's national team, Mr. Cromarty, because of apartheid, was never allowed to compete in the Olympics, thanks to a 20-year International Olympic Committee ban that ended in 1992, shortly after the country began dismantling its apartheid system.

For these two men, the Beijing Olympics is another reminder of the glory that could have been.

Mr. Cromarty, currently an associate professor of biology at Assumption College, was a top 200- and 400-meter freestyle swimmer in South Africa, but missed out on the 1980 and the1984 Olympics.

Thousands of other non-South African athletes shared his fate during the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, as some 50 countries, led by the United States, boycotted the games in protest over the 1979 Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union responded by leading a boycott of the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. Some 14 Eastern Bloc countries and their allies joined the boycott.

Mr. Cromarty accepted the IOC decision to ban South Africa from the Olympics, but on a personal level he believes that opening lines of communication and cultural interaction, rather than promoting isolation, is a far better weapon in resolving political differences among nations.

"To be one of your country's top swimmers and not able to compete in the Olympics - to not be able to call yourself an Olympian - is a major disappointment," he said.

But while Mr. Cromarty and Mr. Jacobs might not be able to call themselves Olympians, they each have been rewarded for their perseverance and their dedication to their sports.

For Mr. Jacobs, who played for more than 12 years, including eight years as captain of the Western Province Hockey team, his reward came mostly in seeing his son, Bruce Jacobs, chosen to represent South Africa in field hockey during the 2004 Olympics.

Bruce Jacobs returned this year as captain of the South African team in the Beijing Olympics.

"Personally I know that I could have made it at the international level and so I was very angry that I didn't get the chance, but I hoped that one day my children would," Mr. Jacobs, a mechanical engineer in Cape Town, said in an interview published in Heartlines, part of a project to use the media to help "good people find the courage to live out their positive values."

Mr. Cromarty's dashed Olympic dreams didn't dampen his love for his sport.

He was awarded a full athletic scholarship to Boston University in 1984, and two years later became the first foreign student to captain the university's swim team.

Over the years, Mr. Cromarty, who lives in Rhode Island, has amassed an impressive swimming record, including holding 41 individual New England Master Records and being a U.S. Masters All-American swimmer each year since 1994.

He was inducted into the Rhode Island Swimming Hall of Fame in 2005.

Having been a swimming coach for many years, he is now turning his attention to building a swimming program at Assumption College.

Maybe one day one of his students, or more, will compete in the Olympics - but that is not really his goal.

The preparation, the dedication and sacrifice it takes to succeed at the highest level in sports are the same ingredients it takes to succeed in life, he said.

"It gives you the discipline and the work ethic to accomplish things in life," he said of that preparation.

Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Cromarty - two men from different sides of the tracks in their country - have met with great success because they both have one thing in common - they are Olympians at heart.