Moravcova Set For Swansong And IOC Future
By Lubomir Soucek
The Olympic silver medallist will race at her fifth Olympic Games in Beijing and then stand as a candidate representing athletes in the IOC. She will count on the votes of swimmers

The Olympic silver medallist will race at her fifth Olympic Games in Beijing and then stand as a candidate representing athletes in the IOC. She will count on the votes of swimmers

Racing at five Olympic Games is a rare feat in any sport and quite something in the world of swimming. So far, only three swimmers - Mette Jacobsen (Denmark), Alison Sheppard (Great Britain) and Rogerio Romero (Brazil) - have competed in five consecutive Olympic Games in the modern era. Moravcova, Olympic silver medalist and a sporting hero at home in Slovakia, will join the club in Beijing alongside 41-year-old supermom Dara Torres (USA), former Russian Nina Zhivanevskaya (ESP) and her teammate Maria Pelaez. Motivation is timeless, it seems.

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, sixteen-year-old Moravcova was the youngest member of the Czechoslovak squad. She placed a worthy 18th in the 100m freestyle but there was much more to come. Four years on in Atlanta 1996 and racing as a potential medalist in the 200m freestyle, she missed the cut for the final by an excruciating 0.09sec. Consolation was victory in the B final but Moravcova was determined to make amends, her appetite for an Olympic medal all the keener.

During her collegiate years (1995-99) and post graduate period (1999 to present) at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Moravcova turned into one of the most versatile swimmers in the world. Under the guidance of SMU women's coach Steve Collins, finished her college career as one of the most decorated female swimmers in NCAA's history, with 10 individual and 4 relay titles. She won her ?pet? events, the 200 yards freestyle in all four consecutive years.

In 1999, she won three gold medals at the World Short-Course Championships in Hong Kong and all seemed to be on track for a much better Olympic outing in 2000 than she had managed in 1996. But in the summer of pre-Olympic year, her form took a dive, her times slumping to the level she achieved in her junior years. She struggled to finish training sessions, lost weight, suffered inexplicable fatigue and her heart rate tests were well up on norm.

Medical tests revealed the terrible truth: she was suffering from Grave's disease - an auto-immune thyroid disorder, also called hyperthyroidism. Just 12 months before the Games in Sydney, Moravcova was operated on and her thyroid gland was removed. In the face of adversity, Moravcova's response was key to her success. She was determined to fight back to peak form and make Sydney 2000 a Games worth remembering for the quality of her performances.

Moravcova fell just 0.08sec shy of the gold medal in the 200m freestyle in Sydney, taking silver behind home hero Susie O'Neill (AUS) and a second silver in the 100m butterfly behind Inge De Bruijn (NED) and added two silver medals and two fifth place finishes. The smile on Moravcova's face did not only reflect her achievements in the pool but was a measure of her delight at having turned around what seemed like a hopeless situation just a year earlier.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Martina fell short of her own expectations: she finished 6th in her favorite event - 100m butterfly and 7th in the 100m freestyle. Her taper had gone awry. Moravcova redeemed herself by retaining the world short-course title in the 100m butterfly in Indianapolis a few after the Games in Athens.

In the past four years, Moravcova has suffered her fair share of injuries and health problems - including lower back pain and torn shoulder ligaments - but has stuck with the sport. Despite her dispiriting form, she was determined not to quit half way through an Olympic cycle. She has adjusted her diet and training regime and her times of late have started to recover. Beijing is going to be about fun and completing a journey. Swimming, she has often said, has not always been about the destination but rather about the journey.

Moravcova has won an incredible 65 international medals beyond her two Olympic silvers. A seven-times world short-course champion and 22-times European Champion (19 times in short-course and 3-time in long course), she owns the all-time record number of 105 victories in the World Cup races (and 2 overall series victories). Martina also broke 3 World, 17 European and 204 Slovak records, and collected 14 NCAA titles, 5 World University Games gold medals, and six honours for the Slovakian Athlete of the Year.

In Beijing, the 32-year-old will be racing alongside some who were not born when Moravcova made her Olympic debut. She knows that it will take a return to her very best form (100m 'fly, 57.20 in 2002) to get close to the Olympic podium in Beijing. And beyond that, come what may, she aims to keep the Olympic spirit burning within her in a new capacity: Moravcova is the Slovak Olympic Committee's candidate for the IOC Athletes Commission. Throughout the Olympics, all participating athletes will cast their votes in the Olympic Village to choose their representatives. Undoubtedly, Martina's award-winning determination, dedication, and drive, coupled with a 20-year competitive experience could qualify her to be one the strongest candidates in the running. Swimmers will doubtless want to back her as an ideal candidate to represent them and their sport.

Edited by Craig Lord