A weekend ago at the Level 3 Regional Age Group Championships 2022 held in South Africa, Pretoria, a young Melodi Saleshando literally and figuratively, stood head and shoulders above her peers.
In what was her debut in competitive swimming, the 12-year-old never looked out of place. She belonged, and it showed as she scooped five (5) medals, two (2) golds and (3) three silvers. Prior to her heroics in Pretoria, Melodi had never swum competitively, even locally!
Out of a group of four swimmers sent to the competition by Propellers Swimming Academy, she was the only one to bring medals home. The group included among others Melodi’s sister Oratile, Joy Mvududu and Kutlo Kesiile.
For coaches at the academy, the young starlet’s achievements came as no surprise.
According to researchers, the key characteristics of the best swimmers in the world include, among others, being well endowed with height, large hands and feet, large arm girth, high arm span to height ratio and broad shoulders, just to name a few.
While Melodi is yet to be a teenager, the signs are all there that she may possess most, if not all of the characteristics needed to be a star in the pool.
Solomon Mpusetsang, Operations Manager, Head Coach Development (Intermediate) noted that the academy focuses on long term program which is to pivot children from as young as 3 years old to adolescent stage.
“When athletes go into specialisation, as coaches we have to ready them while they are still young and this process starts from analysing how they are built up. This examination gives us the direction on how to train an athlete,” said Mpusetsang.
“Take Melodi for example. She is tall and lean, has wide shoulders, large limbs and hands. This body structure already gives her some sort of advantage as she covers more space when swimming,” he explains.
As a norm with Propellers, parents are expected to be active and supportive, not only during competitions but also in trainings. This bond is known to be the tripartite relationship. Interestingly, Mpusetsang points out that the tripartite goes beyond supporting the child. He says they use it to analyse parents’ physique and body structure to help understand the child’s potential peak height velocity and type of training to conduct.
“Even though we have not carried out a research, genetic make- up plays a vital role in an athlete’s performance. When tall, you are advantaged to reach a wider space area unlike a short person,” he says.
He notes that taller swimmers use less strength and energy than shorter swimmers, thus tiring out at a slower rate.
“As good of a swimmer Melodi is, I believe her genetic make- up backs her. She is a tall girl and comes from a family of people who have a great height advantage,” Mpusetsang notes.
According to research carried out by Lisa Guth and Stephen Roth, titled Genetic influence on athletic performance; “Both the scientific and sporting communities acknowledge that genetic factors undoubtedly contribute to athletic performance. As of 2009, more than 200 genetic variants had been associated with physical performance, with more than 20 variants being associated with elite athlete status.”
Guth and Roth continue that, “Although few studies have examined the link between genetic factors and athletic performance in children or adolescents; the idea of predicting future athletic success through genetic testing in children is becoming increasingly common.”
If this research as well as Mpusetsang’s observations come to pass, the country may have a potential star in Melodi. Whether her potential will translate into stardom, only time will tell.