Roland Schoeman

Olympic gold medalist and world record holder

Born in Pretoria, Schoeman first took an interest in the sport when he was 13, and began to compete three years later  He has said that he began swimming to show a girl how interested he was in her. This marked the beginning of a career that would see him attain a gold, silver and bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games; three gold, a silver and a bronze World Championship medals, as well as four gold, three silvers and three bronzes at the Commonwealth Games. He set new South African records in the 100 m Freestyle (48.69 s), 50 m Freestyle (22.04 s), 100 m Butterfly (52.73 s) and 50 m Butterfly (23.65 s) events.

He won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens in the 4 × 100 m freestyle, a silver medal in the 100 m freestyle event and a bronze in the 50 m freestyle. Three of the Men's 100 metre Freestyle team were in the team that broke the record and won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He also claimed golds in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly.

Schoeman, who is asthmatic, was voted the African Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World in 2004, 2005 and 2006; and the South African Swimmer of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. He was elected South African Sports Star of the Year in 2004

In 2007, he received the South African Presidential Award Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, awarded for excellent achievements in the field of swimming.

At the 2005 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Montreal, Canada he won two gold medals [50 m Butterfly (in a world record time of 22.96 s) and Freestyle (21.69 s, the second fastest time in history at the time)]. He also claimed a silver in 100 m freestyle.

In December 2005, Schoeman turned down a 40 Million Rand (US$5.9 million) contract to swim for Qatar.He stated reasons of national pride for turning down the offer and that hearing the South African national anthem and sharing the joy of his victories with his fellow South Africans is what made winning gold special.

On 12 August 2006, Schoeman broke the short course world record for 50 metres freestyle and became the first man to swim the distance under 21 seconds, with a time of 20.98 seconds. Schoeman lowered the previous mark by 0.12 seconds held for the last two years by Frédérick Bousquet of France. Schoeman was swimming in a specially built 25-metre pool at an invitational meeting in a Hamburg tennis stadium.

At the 2007 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne Australia he successfully defended his 50m butterfly title. He also made the final of the 50 m and 100 m freestyle and was part of the 4×100 m freestyle relay team that finished fourth. On 6 September 2008 Roland Schoeman set a new short course meters world record of 20.64 at South African Nationals. Schoeman, lost his world record in late 2008 but regained his record. At the Short Course World Record at South Africa Championships, Schoeman swam a 20.30 seconds of the 50 meter freestyle short course (25 m pool).

In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Schoeman, aged 32, advanced to the final in the Men's 50m freestyle, clocking a 21.80 to finish .46 seconds behind the gold medal winner, Florent Manaudou. 

Schoeman aims to compete in the 2016 Olympic games. 

Schoeman has broken 3 Long Course world records (2 individual, 1 relay) and 6 short course world records (all individual).

Event Time Record Date Location
Long Course
50m Freestyle 21.67 SA Record Holder 16 Aug 2008  Beijing
100m Freestyle 48.17 Former SA Record Holder 15 Aug 2004  Athens
200m Freestyle 1:52.07   5 Aug 2005  Irvine, USA
50m Butterfly 22.90 Former WR Holder 26 Jul 2009  Rome
4×100m Freestyle 3:11.93 Former WR Holder 26 Jul 2009  Rome
Short Course
50m Freestyle 20.30 WR Holder 8 August 2009  Pietermaritzburg
100m Freestyle 46.25 Former WR Holder 22 January 2005  Berlin
50m Butterfly 21.87   14 Nov 2009  Berlin
100m IM 52.20 Former WR Holder 13 Aug 2006  Hamburg


His biography on the 2012 Olympic Games website:


Rocket, GT, The Blade, Showman. (, 15 May 2008;, 20 Jun 2010)


Playing golf, listening to music, watching films and cycling. (, 20 May 2008)


Psychology - University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Language(s) spoken


Club name

Northern Tigers/ Phoenix Swim club


Coley Stickels [club] from 2011 (, 19 Sep 2011)


1998 for South Africa, Commonwealth Games (Kuala Lumpur) (, 12 Apr 2010)


He tore a muscle in his right arm while on holiday in South Africa in December 2011 and his recovery time was four to six weeks. (, 27 Dec 2011)

He suffered a tear to his pectoral muscle in 2010. (, 27 Dec 2011)

He had a back problem in 2008 in Manchester at the World Championships that year. (, 25 Nov 2010)

He was troubled by shoulder tendinitis in the lead up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. (, 14 Mar 2006;, 25 Nov 2010)

He had a stress fracture in his foot in 2002 in Russia. (, 14 Mar 2006;, 25 Nov 2010)

Additional information

Start of sporting career
He began at age 13 while attending high school. (Sunday Times, 22 Aug 2004)

Reason for taking up this sport
He took up swimming after he was dropped from opening the bowling for his high school cricket team. He was also keen to meet a girl who was a part of the swimming team. "She was in high school with me and on the local swim team. I thought if I joined the team I'd be able to show her I was interested in her. To cut a long story short, we ended up dating for a couple of months and she moved away. That was the end of the relationship, but there was something in swimming that I could identify with." (Sunday Times, 22 Aug 2004;, 26 Mar 2006;, 04 Aug 2008)

Most memorable sporting achievement
The gold medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Becoming the first man to swim under 23 seconds in the 50m butterfly at the Montreal World Championships in 2005, and becoming the first man to swim under 21 seconds in the 50m freestyle in Hamburg. (, 31 Aug 2009)

Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who he met after winning three medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. "I was in awe of the man, it was surreal. You actually feel the respect he gets." He also looks up to English rower Sir Steven Redgrave.
(, 20 Jun 2005)

Most influential person in career
His father. "He made me realise that I could do anything if I believed in myself and my ability." (Athlete, 13 Aug 1999)

Sporting philosophy / motto
"To win is to be the best in the history of your body," [Rick De Mont]. (, 20 Jun 2005)

He won the 2009 Times Newspaper South African Athlete of the Decade award.

He won the 2009 University of Pretoria Sportsman of the Year.

He was inducted into the 2007 Arizona Hall of Fame.

In September 2007 he was awarded the Presidential Order of Ikhamanga in silver for his achievements in swimming. The Order is awarded to South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and sport.

He was inducted into the University of Pretoria Hall of Fame for three consecutive years from 2005-2007.

He won the Swimming South Africa Athlete of the Year for four consecutive years from 2004-2007.

He was named Swimming World Magazine's African Swimmer of the Year from 2004 to 2007.

He became the first South African to win three medals at an Olympic Games in Athens 2004.

(, 26 Mar 2009; 24 Sep 2007;, 04 Dec 2007;, 20 May 2008; 08 May 2008; 20 May 2008;, 14 Oct 2010)

He has been a vocal campaigner for better pay for South Africa's swimmers and has had difficulties receiving payments from sponsors. "I have been funding Roland's swimming by literally cashing in my retirement annuities," said his mother Geraldine. In 2005 he turned down a lucrative offer, reportedly ZAR20,000,000 [approx USD$2,900,000], to represent the Gulf state of Qatar. He said he seriously and thoroughly considered the offer and even turned down a second higher offer. "I am an African and more specifically a South African. While I am significantly poorer today than I could have been, I feel tremendously blessed that it is Nkosi Sikeleli iAfrika [South Africa national anthem] which will be played if I win a gold medal." (, 11 Jun 2009;, 11 Aug 2011;, 02 Oct 2010;, 09 Oct 2010)

His father was killed in a car accident while he was in his early teens. The following day he competed in his father's honour at the Transvaal Open Championships and qualified for the senior nationals. He continues to use his father's memory as a motivation source. (, 11 Jun 2009;, 11 Aug 2011;, 02 Oct 2010;, 09 Oct 2010)

He has suffered from asthma from his childhood and he used swimming as a means to strengthen his lungs. He had a lung test at the 2004 Olympic Games, which revealed the limitations of his lungs due to the illness. "The worst is I'd already got so used to living with asthma; I didn't even realise how bad it really was. Asthma tends to run in families but it doesn't mean the end of your dreams," he said. His sister also suffers from asthma.

Previous Olympics

Beijing 2008, Athens 2004, Sydney 2000, London 2012

Roland is a vocal critic of swimming management in South Africa.

In South Africa we are not being allowed to train and compete on a level playing field. We are always 10 steps behind every other top swimming nation in the world. 

This year's world championship swim team is once again partially funded. If you rank top 16 based on last year's world rankings you will receive a full funded trip. 

Swimming in South Africa needs a dire change. We as swimmers and coaches largely accept the poor facilities, the poor support and the attitude remains."We've done it in the past" Yes, yes you're quite right we have done it in the past. We have done it in the past, IN SPITE of the challenges. Swimming from a place of anger and frustration will only get you so far. It is now that we need a fresh change. It is now that we need fresh faces. We are heading in the direction of Athletics South Africa and as a swimmer I do not want to see that.

April 2014


June 2015

CASH-strapped South African swimmers Roland Schoeman and Chad Ho have taken to a crowd-funding platform to raise money as they chase international glory.

The pair, both Olympians, are among 13 athletes looking for public backing on, a website established to assist athletes financially.

Schoeman, one of SA’s most decorated Olympic athletes — with three medals at Athens 2004 — wants to qualify for his fifth Games, which would be an SA first.

The 35-year-old, who is based in the US, was dropped from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s funding programme last year after failing to make the podium in the 50m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Schoeman wants to raise $10,000 before mid-December as part of his #RolandToRio campaign, and by Thursday morning, his fund stood at $705.

Durban-based Ho, who as a schoolboy finished ninth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had raised $700 of the $1,500 he had targeted for the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, that start on Friday.

Most of SA’s aquatics contingent had to pay to make the trip, many of them about R1,500.

If 25-year-old Ho, a six-time Midmar Mile champion, can finish in the top 10 of the 10km race on Monday, he will secure automatic qualification for Rio 2016.

Schoeman, who made the 50m freestyle final at three consecutive Olympics from 2004 to 2012, will need to swim a qualifying time of 22.27sec at national trials next year to book his spot at the Rio Olympics. Struggling with a virus at this year’s trials, he managed a best of only 22.38, meaning he will miss his first world championships of this millennium.

"I would like to leave a personal legacy and show people that with commitment, dedication and belief in yourself you can accomplish what you put your mind to," Schoeman said on his profile on

He won SA’s first world championship silverware in 2001, a 50m freestyle bronze in Japan. In Athens, he became the first South African to win three medals at a single Olympics since runner Bevil Rudd in 1920 — gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay, 100m freestyle silver and 50m freestyle bronze.

Schoeman reached his peak at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, winning the 50m freestyle in 21.69 — then the second-fastest time, after Alexander Popov’s 21.64 world record.

Schoeman, who reached the 50m freestyle final at the world championships in 2013, has been to five Commonwealth Games and shares the SA record of a career 12 medals alongside Chad Le Clos.

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