Ryk Neethling - Olympic gold medalist and world record holder


A defining moment in the lives of these four men. The South African squad of Roland Schoeman (split 48:38), Lyndon Ferns (48:34), Darian Townsend (49:13) and Ryk Neethling(47:99) - clocked 3 minutes and 13.17 seconds to triumph over the Netherlands (2nd) and the US team (3rd).

An unhappy looking Michael Phleps had to settle for the bronze.


Born in Bloemfontein, he attended Grey College, where he excelled in swimming under coach Simon Gray at the Seals SC. In 1994 Ryk broke the 1500m freestyle South African record by ten seconds - set by his coach Simon Gray in March 1976. He won the 400 and 1500m freestyle events at the 1995 SA swimming championships. 

Despite not making the Olympic qualifying time for the 1500 at the 1996 South African Olympic trials, Ryk was selected on the strength of his swim at the 1995 pan Pacific championships, which was under the qualifying time. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta he came fifth in the 1500 m freestyle.

Immediately following the Games he was enrolled at The University of Arizona. His record of achievements at Arizona including being the 9 times NCAA National Champion, Arizona Athlete of the Year and PAC-10 Athlete of the Year for four consecutive years, 1999 NCAA Swimmer of the Year, and the University of Arizona Athlete of the Century award.

He continued his international career at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, winning the silver medal in the 1500 m freestyle, but only managing fifth at the 1998 World Aquatics Championships. In 1999 he had a much better Pan Pacific Championships winning silver in the 1500 m freestyle, and bronze in the 400 m and 200 m freestyle. After achieving a disappointing 5th in the 1500 m freestyle event and 8th in the 400 m freestyle at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney he elected to discontinue competing in the 1500 m event, concentrating instead on the 50 m and 100 m freestyle events.

At the 2002 Commonwealth Games he won a bronze medal in the 100 m freestyle and came 4th in the 50 m freestyle events. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games he won silver in the 100 m freestyle and was part of the S.A gold medal winning 4×100 m freestyle relay team.


He held the South African record in the 200 m, 400 m, 800 m and 1500 m freestyle events, and the 4×100 m freestyle relay world record.

The highlight of his career thus far has been winning a gold medal in the 4×100 m freestyle relay at the 2004 Summer Olympics. He also placed 4th in the individual 100 m freestyle.

In November 2005, he announced that he had refused a multimillion dollar offer by Qatar's Olympic body to switch nationalities and swim for Qatar at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

At the 2008 Summer Olympics he become the first South African to participate four successive Olympic Games.

Today he is a shareholder and marketing director of Val de Vie Estate in Franschhoek.

He was named CEO of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation which focuses on raising awareness around water safety.

 By the time Ryk Neethling finished his college swimming career, he was a nine-time NCAA individual champion, a four-time Pac-10 Conference Swimmer of the Year, a seven-time Pac-10 Conference individual champion, a 17-time All-American, the 1998-1999 NCAA Division 1 Swimmer of the Year, and an Olympian. At the time of his induction, Ryk held the South African record in five different events and ranked in the top ten in the world in the 50, 100 and 200 Freestyle and Individual Medleys.  

Ryk’s nine career individual NCAA titles were the most by any student-athlete in the 100 plus year history of Arizona Wildcat Athletics. The nine titles also tied for the third best overall in the 81 year history of NCAA men’s swimming and Ryk became only the eighth man in NCAA swimming history to win three back to back national championships. Amazingly, all 17 of Ryk’s All-America selections are of the first-team variety, meaning he finished in the top-8 of every race that he entered during his four years.

Ryk has held over 20 junior national records and 22 South African National titles. He has represented South Africa and medalled in three Commonwealth Games, the most in South African history. He has also been a five-time finalist in the Olympics and the World Championships.