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Fresh & Hungry – Olivia Nel

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Wonderful to experience the journey of one of SA’s brilliant young athletes –  Olivia Nel. She speaks with compassion and much wisdom of her experience in the sports and life arena. Previously a Water Polo champ she has but recently joined the swimming family and is already making waves.

About herself she says: “I am a young, independent and very confident woman. I always love a sense of humor from everyone, and I am also very dedicated and hard working in everything I do. I will give my best in any task or obstacle that I face in life. I’m a very loving and welcoming girl, and I absolutely love helping other people”.




  • Name and Surname: Olivia Nel
  • Nickname: Livi
  • Date of birth: 23 July 2002
  • Place of birth: Cape Town
  • Current city: Cape Town
  • Height: 185m / 6.09ft
  • Weight: 69-71kg
  • Shoe size: UK 10
  • Club: Wynberg Swimlab Aquatic Academy
  • Coach’s name: Hilton Slack
  • Out of country events/meets: Junior World Championships in Indianapolis (2017) and Junior Africa Championships in Egypt (2017)
  • Secondary sport/sports: Gym (I also love running)
  • Favorite city: Aspen / Austin Texas – America
  • Favorite song/type of music: French music/mainstream songs/ motivational and chilled
  • Favorite movie: Kingsman
  • School and grade: Herschel girls school grade 10
  • Sponsors: Arena Swimwear
  • Twitter and Instagram names, facebook name: Instagram= Olivia.Nel10 (I don’t have facebook and twitter)
  • Website: — none —
  • Community / church projects involved in: Faith Club at school + chapel services + divinity lessons + part of DARG (animal) charity
  • Parents names, siblings: Mom-Annette ; Dad-Jeremy ; Brother-Jordan ; Twin sister-Georgia

Q: You are passionate and doing so well in your Swimming tell me a little bit about how you started in Swimming and your journey in the Swimming arena up to now?

I was a little 10 year old youngster when I started swimming, but that wasn’t proper training as it was for waterpolo fitness so I only swam about once or twice a week. The prep school that I went to had waterpolo as one of their main sports so that was my focus and at that stage and I preferred waterpolo to swimming. I started swimming competitively at the age of 11 when I swam my first level one in Oudshoorn and things escalated from there when I won the 50 and 100 freestyle, it was then when I found my passion for swimming. I’ve always focused more on waterpolo especially when we traveled to America for a waterpolo camp in Malibu with US Olympic coach Terry Schroeder. At that stage I realized my love for the sport and stopped competing in the swimming arena for the whole of 2015 to focus on waterpolo. My parents never forced me to do anything so I realised on my own that swimming came very naturally for me, when I qualified for Junior African champs in Egypt off waterpolo training in 2017 and set the 50 and 100 free SA age group records at age 13 and 14 and at age 15 I set the SA age group record for 50 free. Therefore I only stared competing properly again in 2016 when I was 13 years old. Making and going on an international tour was an experience that I truly learnt from, and as I knew my dedication for swimming had to be uplifted, my love for waterpolo very slowly started to fade. I was selected to represent South Africa at another international tour to the World Junior Swimming Champs in Indianapolis, which was very exciting for me and a huge learning curve. My swim training naturally had increased tremendously at that point. I eventually realized that racing at such a high level and achieving at top standards was going to take a lot of strength and determination, so after a tough decision, I stopped waterpolo only in the middle of grade 9 when I was 14. It was not an easy decision although I could not manage doing both waterpolo and swimming training, matches and galas effectively, as both coaches wanted me to attend every practice. I am still happy I had done a team sport as it kept me versatile in what I wanted to do, although in the swimming field I felt so much love and support from my family and friends and especially my local idols such as SA sprint champion, Erin Gallagher, who has been an incredible and inspirational mentor to me. I just absolutely love racing against her, as she is always so supportive. It gives me new innovative ways to approach my training and improve to the higher levels. She is a hard working and dedicated person with the sweetest personality, which I absolutely adore. And there are one or two international heroes to me such as Sarah Sjostrom and Simone Manual, whom I also got the privilege of meeting in America. As my waterpolo journey has ended, swimming is now my main focus and I am ecstatic to see what the future holds for me, as I am still a young 15 year old. My most important focus right now is to never give up and always do the best I can in every training session so I can work towards each and every one of my goals and achieve them with greatness.

Q: You are part of a twin – how are you experiencing this in the swimming arena?

I absolutely love having a twin. We often say to each other that we honestly don’t know what we would do without the other… as you can tell we are very close. We spend a lot of time with one another and in terms of swimming we both have our competitive sides flaring, although we also love racing against each other. In terms of swimming I have more of a passion for sprinting short distances whereas Georgia loves the middle distance races, which she is currently very strong at! In and outside the pool we will always be best friends no matter what, hence one will always see us walking together, wearing the same clothes or doing the same things even though we do have many differences. We stay as close as possible at all times and greatly support each other in every situation. We are always there for one another no matter what.

Q: Who are you? Describe yourself as a person.

I am a young, independent and very confident woman. I always love a sense of humor from everyone, and I am also very dedicated and hard working in everything I do. I will give my best in any task or obstacle that I face in life. I’m a very loving and welcoming girl, and I absolutely love helping other people.

Q: What is the highest accolade that you have achieved in Swimming and what is your greatest personal accomplishment?

Representing team South Africa at the Junior World Swimming Championships in Indianapolis last year, making the SA Junior Elite squad, breaking the 50 free age group record for 3 years in a row and the 100 free for 2 years, and lastly, qualifying for the Commonwealth Games in the 50 free at age 15.

Q: Beside your swimming what do you have a passion for?

Running, Biology, Art, friends and being in the ocean.

Q: Tell me one thing about yourself that the world does not know J?

I’m a very fast runner. If I did not swim, it would be my dream to be an Olympic runner! I’m left handed and I spend my free time drawing. I’m good with kids, and according to my coach, Hilton, I’m verrrry cheeky :-). I also love my school – Herschel Girls.

Q: So, you are a brilliant swimmer and academic – but name 1 thing that you suck at 🙂

According to my mother, I’m often slightly forgetful 😉

Q: Do you want share a little on your faith journey so far?

I always put God first in my life along with my family. I pray often and attend many Christian events at school. Being honest, I do not go to church very often, although I read my bible and have a ‘Daily Devotions’ book that I read most nights. I often go to Divinity at school and I am also part of a faith club. I know I can ask God for help at any time in my life and I strive to praise his name high. Glory to God.

Q: What are you most grateful for in your life at the moment?

All the love and support I get from my family and friends and especially my Coach, Hilton Slack, and having God in my life to help me deal with every situation. I absolutely adore my swimming friends, and they are part of the reason that I love this sport so much, and find it easy to train for so many hours every day.

Q: In your opinion, how do you define success in life / how do you define a successful person?

Each person has their own journey to success. Success is not what society defines as being “acceptable” or “amazing” compared to other people. One cannot define success as a comparison to others, its what you make of it. Success can be big or small, but if you try hard and you put the work in with dedication and discipline, your achievement will be successful.

Q: What’s your WHY ?  Why do you do what you do?

People often ask me why I would want to train for hours on end staring at a black line in the water and why I put myself through it. It’s not about that; I do it because I love it! I only do what I love in life, and what makes my happy is all the hard work, dedication and fight put into the sport. I love the competitiveness that comes along with it, and I love achieving MY success knowing that I have done the work. I am obviously working for the next Olympics in 2020. It is very important to be an amazing role model to the youth, as they will be following and taking action by your standards and by the things you say. Always have a kind and open heart and the youth will eventually make their way up to greatness! The most important thing I can tell you about this sport called swimming… HAVE FUN! Don’t do it if you hate it, if you have fun you’ll carry on and achieve and when you start achieving, life can only escalate from there. 🙂

Q: Anything else you would like to share?

Focus on plan A, but always have a plan B.

Thank you so much for taking this interview. We would like to wish you all the best for your journey ahead. We look forward to following you as you go from strength to strength. Blessings!

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