PHOENIX, Ariz., USA, September 7. A little more than a month removed from winning a pair of bronze medals at the World Championships in Montreal, Ryk Neethling was the recent focus of an article in The Sun, a South African newspaper. The piece focused on his response to winning gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay at the Athens Olympics, his rivalry with countryman Roland Schoeman and his future in the sport.
A longtime figure on the international scene and since a phenomenal collegiate career at the University of Arizona, Neethling enjoyed his greatest success in the summer of 2004, when he helped South Africa to a world-record performance in the 400 free relay. Individually, though, this summer was his finest, thanks to the tandem of medal-winning finishes he uncorked in the 100 and 200 freestyle events in Montreal.
"Athens was not the end, but the beginning," Neethling said in the newspaper article. "Some people might have been happy (with the medal in Athens), but not me. Since then we've been going faster and faster, and now we're on top of the world."
Neethling and Schoeman are the poster boys for South African swimming and two of the premier names in the sport. Schoeman left Montreal with a medal trifecta, including gold in the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly. In the fly, Schoeman established a world record. For good measure, he added a silver medal in the 100 freestyle.
Not afraid to let his feelings be known, Neethling had some knifing comments about Michael Phelps, the American sensation revered as the world’s top swimmer. "There's nothing special about Phelps as a person, he's just like any other guy," Neethling said. "He's been a celebrity since he was 16, been pampered, and he tends to think quite highly of himself."
Neethling will be in action during the South African stop on the World Cup circuit, scheduled for Durban from November 11-13. His next major competition is expected to be the Commonwealth Games, slated for March in Melbourne. There, Neethling will tangle with Schoeman and Aussies Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. Thorpe will be making his return to major competition.