South African swimmer, Olympic hopeful, set to make a splash at UNT

South African swimmer, Olympic hopeful, set to make a splash at UNT

South African swimmer, Olympic hopeful, set to make a splash at UNT
September 13
12:00 2018

Standing at 5 feet, 1 inch with bright blonde hair, Carmen Botha (pronounced boo-eh-tha) is set to be a formidable force on the Mean Green swim team. The South African native learned how to swim from her mother at a very early age and begin competing in the sport at just 7 years old. Botha joined the South African national swim team as a 12-year-old.

“I just did really well there,” Botha said. “For example, my last nationals [in 2017], I placed fourth in one [event] and sixth in the other.” 

In 2016, Botha tried out for the South African Olympic swim team, placing seventh in her event. In order to become an Olympic team member, the athlete must place within the top two race times for any particular swim event. 

After her attempt to make the Olympic team didn’t fare as she had hoped, she turned her attention to swimming at the collegiate level. Her record caught the eye of Mean Green swim coach Brittany Roth.

“Carmen is a really sweet girl,” Roth said. “She’s got a strong work ethic.” 

A few months later, Carmen boarded a plane to take her place on the Mean Green swim team. She said something about North Texas really stuck out to her. 

“I chose UNT because of the location and the campus,” Botha said. “I liked Coach Brittany when we spoke over Skype. The opportunities for swimmers are better in the Americas because college swimming here is bigger. They don’t really have big teams [in South Africa], so if I ever want to swim at a higher level, like at the Olympics, I’d be able to train with faster teammates.”

Freshman Carmen Botha from Pretoria, South Africa, swims butterfly at practice Wednesday afternoon. Jordan Collard

The move to Denton hasn’t been easy for Carmen, though. From the people and food to the mannerisms, life in North Texas has its differences when compared to her hometown.

“People from Texas are actually really nice, but I feel like I can’t relate to the people from here,” Botha said. “I think we have different values, and our families are different. For example, in South Africa, religion is a huge part of our lives, but here it doesn’t get talked about that much. The manners are a huge difference here. I was in line the other day and I gave [a woman] my spot, and she didn’t just say anything. It bothered me a little. The food and the people have been the biggest difference. The food is just junk food and not as fresh. Back home, we eat more fruit and vegetables and everything is so fresh. It tastes different. The meat tastes so different, and I don’t eat it here. I don’t like bread here — it tastes like cake because it’s so sweet. But the cafeteria food tastes better, it’s healthier and more like what I’m used to.”

She has also seen a clear difference in the way athletes are treated in the U.S.

Freshman Carmen Botha of Pretoria, South Africa, listen on Aug. 5 for what she will swim at the next meet. Jordan Collard

“Athletes are very important here and in South Africa,” Botha said. “It’s a normal thing, you don’t really get special treatment. [In Denton], they provide a lot, and they care about us more. We have better sports training and health facilities. Everything’s so professional here. It’s so much more elite. You actually feel like a professional sportsman. Back home, you have to pay for everything.” 

Her teammates, some of whom are also international students, have helped her with the adaptation process.

“I really like it because I feel like Americans are much different from Europeans because of the culture, so having other internationals with you experiencing the same things makes it easier to adapt,” Botha said. “It makes me feel more part of the team.”

Fellow international student and teammate Ula Michalczyk said she has found a friend in Botha.

“I really like Carmen, she’s really sweet,” Michalczyk said. “Carmen is very supportive, and we spend a lot of time together. We don’t live together, but one day we started talking to each other and we started becoming closer friends.”

Botha has also had to adapt to differences in the pool. 

“Carmen’s coming from a really unique situation,” Coach Roth said. “Racing here in the U.S. at the college level, we race 25 yards, but that course is not available anywhere else in the world. She’s used to racing the Olympic distance, which is 50 meters (approximately 55 yards). These first few weeks, it’s her learning to race in a shorter capacity. In competition, Carmen swims in an event called the individual medley, and she does that in two different distances. That’s where she’s really found her niche. I see her having a fantastic year. It’ll have a learning curve, but when we show up to our conference championship in February, I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

As far as competing at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Botha has some time to decide. 

“I would love to compete in 2020, but I will have to see because we train in yards here, and I’d have to go back and adapt to a 50-meter pool,” Botha said. “My strategy would be to focus on the finer points and clean up my strokes and turns.”

Featured Image: Freshman Carmen Botha from Pretoria, South Africa, listens to her coach at practice on Aug. 5. Jordan Collard

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Tania Damle

Tania Damle

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