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25 January 1943, Greenpoint Secondary School (Tidimalo) opens.
25 January 1967, David Gray (8 yrs old) swims the world best time for his age group in the 440 yards freestyle.
25 January 1996, Kimberley’s first African Mayor, David Monyamane, is inducted.

The Gray family and swimming
When you ask swimmers who came under his guidance to describe Simon Gray, one of the foremost swimming coaches ever in South Africa, the answer would probably be “HE IS A LEGEND”. The ones who disagree are ten to one those who couldn’t handle the discipline he expects from his swimmers.

On 30 April 2015 this brilliant coach celebrated the 29th year of a lustrous coaching career in the capital city of the Free State. And, the day before, Gray celebrated his 56th birthday in style at the Mangaung swimming pool – being interviewed for an M-Net series, My Story. This specific edition of the series is about four times Olympian and also Olympic gold medalist, Ryk Neethling. Neethling suggested that the programme would be incomplete if they do not interview Simon Gray, who had played a major role in his success.

It was mentioned that Neethling saw Gray as a role model when he joined Gray’s swimming squad (The Seals) at the tender age of 11. One of the TV crew members told Courant that Neethling expressed his thanks and admiration for Gray in no uncertain terms. In turn, Gray stated in the interview that it was a pleasure and also easy to coach Neethling. He added: “Ryk had such a great mindset and followed his dreams. He was extremely dedicated and when proverbially asked to jump, he would ask how high.”

Frank Gray, Simon Gray and Lee McGregor. Photograph taken at the 1972 Nationals.

Where did it all start? Gray’s father and mother, Frank and Valerie, were resident in England when Frank received an offer as full-time swimming coach in Kimberley. Simon, his older brother, David (57) and his younger brother, Andrew (53), were born in England and the whole family moved to Kimberley where the fourth brother, Nicky, saw first light in Kimberley in 1962.

Father Frank coached Karen Muir, one of the best swimmers of all time in South Africa. In 1965 Muir (12 years) became the youngest person to break a sporting world record in any discipline when she swam the 110 yards backstroke in 1:08,7.

Under Frank’s guidance, all four Gray brothers earned their Springbok colours, but it was Simon who scored a rare distinction when he was selected for the Springbok team at the age of 13 and improved the national senior record (1500m freestyle) at the same age. Yet another distinction came his way when he tackled the best the seniors of the Rainbow Nation could throw when he stepped onto the starting blocks the first time at the national senior championships when he was only ten years old. Later on they moved to Sasolburg and then to Durban where Gray matriculated. During this period he represented the Springbok team no less than four times.

In 1977 he accepted a full scholarship at the Houston University (USA). He said: “I enjoyed my stay in Houston tremendously and whilst training very hard, I studied psychology of adolescents, as well as radio and television broadcasting.”

It wasn’t long after his move to Houston that Gray was selected to represent his country of birth, England, and Great Britain. 1978 saw Gray win three silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton (Canada) in the 1500m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 400m individual medley – all in British records. He added bronze in the 4x200m relay. Gray said: “One of my proudest moments was when I was personally congratulated by the Queen of England.” The photo has a special place in his house.

In 1978 he finished fifth (twice) at the world championships (1500m freestyle and 400m individual medley).

Then disaster struck. In 1979 he was hospitalized for six weeks with viral pneumonia and although he represented Britain in three events at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, his body never recovered fully.

“I gradually started losing interest during the following two years and my dad offered me to take over his swimming academy in Durban, “but only after you complete your degree,” his father added. “This transpired in 1983 with approximately 60 swimmers at the academy,” he added. Gray was only 24 years when he started coaching and that is young in terms of coaching such a big group.

In the meantime (1985) he married his wife, Sue and was offered the position of head coach at the Seals Club in Bloemfontein. “This was an offer I couldn’t refuse and on 30 April 1986 we were in Bloemfontein, boots and all.” Since then Gray coached 11 swimmers who became Olympians, 25 national senior champions and Springboks, as well as 33 Junior Springboks.

It is interesting to note that Gray has been Eunice’s coach for 25 years after the head mistress of Eunice Primary School, Mrs Maureen Dale, invited Gray to start coaching the Grade Rs at the school. Coincidentally, Dale was coached by Gray’s father in the 1960s.

* Story from the Bloemfontein Courant, 6 May 2015

* David Gray attended the Hilton Hotel School at the University of Houston in the United States. When he returned to South Africa he worked for the Karos Hotel Group and Southern Sun Hotels. In 1997 Gray opened the Protea Hotel Witbank as General Manager for the Boulevard Hotel Group. He took over as GM of Protea Hotel Capital on July 1 2014, and was still there in 2017.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

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