Marianne Kriel

Olympic Medallist

Marianne was born August 30, 1971 in Bellville, where she attended Bellville High School, and later completed a BA at Stellenbosch. Her coaches include Clara Aurik and Bruce Snodgras, and Southern Methodist University (SMU) under coach Scott Collins. She won a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  Click here to see her results from Atlanta

Today Marianne is a Director of Cape Events Managements in Goodwood, Cape Town. She is a Public Relations Officer for the Commonwealth Games Association as well as a Leader of the His People Church in Cape Town. Kriel lectures at the Every Nation Leadership Institute.

The triple Springbok (Life saving and Biathlon) was South Africa's one-woman swim team, a holder of four national titles for eight years running. But this year, Marianne Kriel acknowledges her relief in finally losing two of them.


Marianne Kriel lost much of her career but has no regrets.

1996 Daily News
"I've swum against the same people for so long that it was kind of nice to lose the 50- and 100-meter freestyle," says Kriel, still the reigning backstroke champion. "It means we're developing. These are young girls who someday will be able to compete against the world."


Now 24 and suffering from tendinitis in her shoulders, Kriel knows her young teammates shouldn't take these opportunities for granted. She'll come to Atlanta next summer fully aware that her best years were stolen by a worldwide protest that kept South African athletes from competing internationally while the apartheid government ruled. She supported the ban when many white athletes of her generation became embittered.

While teenager Janet Evans of the United States was splitting pools from Sydney to Seoul, the perhaps equally talented Kriel was an iron woman stroking in obscurity in what amounted to in-country intramural meets.
"How much faster could she have been if she'd gotten to compete internationally as a 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old?" wonders Steve Collins, who coached Kriel at Southern Methodist University in 1991.

Kriel smiles. In a warm, throaty voice, she says swimming fast stopped being a priority for her eight years ago: "I found out it was more important to be respected as a competitor, a person, a South African."
When Kriel was 16, she discovered the depth of the world's disdain for South Africa. She also felt the uneasy awareness that it was deserved.

It was 1987, and somehow South African officials had managed to get a junior team invited to a swim meet in Luxembourg. Like her teammates, she was excited by the rare opportunity to face international competition. On the morning of the meet, however, the organizers locked the door and wouldn't let the team in the building.

"We were little girls, really, and these men were telling us through the door that Norway and Sweden had already left the pool deck and refused to compete if we were allowed in," recalls Kriel.

"We were crying. But I couldn't help thinking that we deserved this. Not us, but our country. We deserved to be humiliated because we were doing terrible things."

Upon her return, she set out to be a small counterbalance to racist apartheid. No grand gestures. Just a kid being nice to other kids, whether they were black, "coloured" or Indian. It meant sharing a soft drink, looking people in the eye and initiating smiles.

In 1990, she did what every young South African who could did - went to America to study. To swim. She made friends, earned two top-eight finishes in the NCAA Championships, discovered Levis and cowboy boots and compact discs. Still, something was nagging at her. "I was embarrassed and ashamed about my country. I believed people thought I was racist and were ready to attack me."

Fortunately, she returned to a different country, one that was dismantling the apartheid regime and encouraging white and black hands to reach out for each other.

Kriel did. She put together clinics for young black swimmers. She brought coaches and privileged white swimmers to pools that never held the two South Africans before.

When the National Olympic Committee of South Africa decided to put together an Olympic team for Barcelona, one woman's small, kind gestures were rewarded with a grand one: Marianne Kriel was named team captain and asked to lead the South Africans into the Olympic stadium.

Iron woman Kriel was charming and gracious but didn't swim well in the 50- and 100- freestyle, the 100- and 200- back, or her relay.

Still, she wouldn't exchange leading her new country into the Olympics for a medal.

In Atlanta, Kriel will only back stroke. Sore wings and all, she's pulled her way back into the world's top 12.

She won't say what she expects from Atlanta, shrugging it off to survey an emerald pool filled with her teammates. Black ones. White ones. Mostly younger ones. Digging from wall to wall in roped-off lanes.

"It's not important," she says, smiling. "What is, is that I am proud to say I'm a South African for the first time in my life."

Behalwe swem is Mariaane ook 'n Springboik in tweekmp en lewensredding.


Marianne Kriel het vir die derde keer Springbok geword. Sy is gekies vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Lewensreddingspan, wat aan die Wêreld Lewensredding Kampioenskapstoernooi gaan deelneem. Kriel, ook 'n Springbok in swem en tweekamp, oefen hier saam met Tracey Telford en Jacqueline King.

Today: Marianne Kriel is a Director of Cape Events Managements in Goodwood, Cape Town. She is a Public Relations Officer for the Commonwealth Games Association as well as a Leader of the His People Church in Cape Town. Kriel lectures at the Every Nation Leadership Institute.


Cape Region Sportswoman of Year
Sportswoman of the Year | University of Stellenbosch
President's Award: Silver
National Sports Council Service Award
National Sports Council Sportswomen of the Year
Sports Woman of the Year | University of Stellenbosch
State President's Award for Swimming
Swimming Scholarship to Dallas

Competitive Accomplishments

Gold Medal | All Africa Games 100m backstroke | 1995
Bronze Medal | Atlanta Olympic Games 100m backstroke | 1996
Record | Gold Medal South Circle Championships: Netball WPA
Record | Gymnastics: WP Colours | 1979
Springbok Colours | Western Province Team | 1987
Record | Biathlon: Western Province Team | 1982
South African and Africa record | 100m backstroke
South African and Africa record | 200m backstroke



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