Early days - swimming for Natal at nationals in Pretoria
Like Penny Heyns, Gary hails from Amanzimtoti in Natal, where he swam at the Kingsway High school and competed for the local Amazimtoti surf lifesaving club. He won the Midmar Mile in 1981 and in 1982 he won three titles at nationals in Pretoria, before taking up a scholarship to swim at Southern Illinois University in August.
During his time at Southern Illinois Gary swam with fellow South Africans Keith Armstrong, Erwin Kratz, Gerhard van der Walt and Jackie Taljaard. Gary was an All American in 1984 - 1986.
His NCAA results were
1986 - 800 Free Relay (11th, 6:33.03)
1986 - 500 Free (5th, 4:18.79)
1986 - 1650 Free (10th, 15:09.22)
1985 - 500 Free (4th, 4:18.26)
1985 - 1650 Free (4th, 14:54.72)
1984 - 500 Free (5th, 4:20.44)
1984 - 1650 Free (5th, 15:05.36)
Swim Meet of Champions : No-Names Surprise Favourites at Mission Viejo
21 June 1985
If there's one thing you can count on about the Speedo Swim Meet of Champions at the Mission Viejo International Swim Complex, it's that you can't count on anything at all.
Take Thursday's 800-meter freestyle for men, for instance. Mike O'Brien, a USC sophomore who won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle, was entered. And so was Placentia's John Mykkanen, who won a silver in the 400-meter freestyle.
Gary Brinkman was competing, too. Now, Brinkman's is certainly not a household name in sports. It's not really a bellwether name in swimming circles, for that matter. However, it was Brinkman who hit the wall at 8:08.70 to edge Mission Viejo High School junior Dan Jorgensen (8:08.93) and win the 800, a non-Olympic event. Mykkanen was 13th and O'Brien finished 21st.
The surprising result may be explained by the fact that everyone competing in the meet seems to show up in a different state of preparedness.
Brinkman, a South African who swims for Southern Illinois, sat home in Durban, South Africa, last summer, watching the Olympics on TV and getting depressed.
"I'm South African, you know," he said, "so I've kind of had the door slammed in my face internationally. I've known where I stood for a long time, but actually watching the Olympics did get me down."
Brinkman felt considerably better after Thursday's swim, his fastest time ever despite the fact that he is in the middle of heavy training and was "tired and unrested."
South African Jonty Skinner, who broke the world record in the 100-meter freestyle two weeks after the 1976 Olympics, is coaching Brinkman this summer at San Jose Aquatics and he was very pleased with the performance.
"We swam a hard workout yesterday and flew down just today," Skinner said.
5 August 1986 - SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- South African Gary Brinkman, who is banned from the upcoming World Championships because of his country's apartheid policies, won the men's overall title Friday night at the National Long Course Swimming Championships. Brinkman, who trains in San Jose, Calif., made it a sweep of the distance freestyle events, winning the 1500-meter freestyle in 15 minutes, 26.32 seconds. Brinkman had won the 400- and 800-meter freestyle and finished seventh in the 200 meters. He and Tiffany Cohen were the meet`s only triple winners.
In 1988 Gary tried to qualify for a place on the Australian olympic team - by marring Australian Lani Engels.
Engels later made the following statements:
An Australian woman seeking a divorce from a South African swimmer says she married him to help him try to obtain Australian citizenship and compete in the Olympics. Lani Engels, 20, described her highly publicized marriage to Gary Brinkman as ``a sham,'' said she had to buy both their wedding rings and that they were separated the day after wedding last April. ``We weren't lovers. The whole thing was a set-up,'' Engels told newspapers in her hometown of Brisbane. ``I just wish it never happened. I really regret it.'' Brinkman, 24, who was South Africa's leading freestyle swimmer when he arrived last year, had advertised in various newspapers and appeared on television seeking an Australian wife. South Africa is barred from the Olympic Games because of its apartheid policy of racial separation, which denies the black majority a vote in national affairs. Ms. Engels said she married Brinkman hoping he would gain citizenship to compete in the Australian Olympic Games trials. His bid failed when the Australian Government declined his request for citizenship. Brinkman was not immediately available for comment. Ms. Engels says that after her divorce from Brinkman is finalized she plans to wed Nigel Guy, her boyfriend of four years by whom she says she is four months pregnant.
Today Gary lives in Brisbane where he coaches and takes great swimming photos like the one below.