Any country as small as the Cayman Islands is always happy to have a representative in the Olympic Games, no matter how obscure the sport.
An island population of only 50,000 is therefore blessed to have not just one world class swimmer but three with plenty more coming through the ranks.
The best of the bunch could well be standing on top of the medals rostrum this time next year if everything goes according to plan.
Shaune Fraser is the supreme swimmer who over the years has raised the profile of Cayman swimming along with team mates Andrew Mackay and Heather Roffey. They all went to the last Olympics in Athens, part learning curve for next year’s Games in Beijing.
Fraser is the outstanding performer of this illustrious bunch, confirming his potential last month with a silver medal in the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro. The 200 metres freestyle is one of the most competitive and toughest events in the sport yet Fraser only lost by hair’s breath to American Matthew Owen.
It was the biggest accolade Cayman has gained in its swimming history and with his legendary work ethic; Fraser is strongly backed to be among the medals at the big one.
The 19-year-old popped in to the Compass offices on Wednesday during a short break home, for a chat.
‘I went back to school (University of Florida) after Pan Am and got a lot of congratulations,’ he said. ‘Most of my races in Rio felt easy, even the semi-final. In the final, I was fifth when I touched the last wall. I’m a pretty good finisher and thought I could get a medal. To win is the best thing. My goal coming into the tournament was winning gold.’
So there was a twinge of disappointment in that silver. Typical of this fierce competitor, more hard work is the only way to go.
So intense is his training now that Fraser’s main way of relaxing is sleeping. ‘I don’t have a lot of free time.’
He’s just returned from an Olympic training session in Colorado Springs and even now on vacation Fraser is running and doing plenty of cardio-vascular work to keep his 6ft 3in frame in tip-top condition.
The daily five hour grind of two swimming sessions crammed between academic classes resumes next week in Florida but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘The college season should get me in great shape under my coach Greg Troy. He’s really good. We’ve got some good guys training around us and we push each other. The world record holder Ryan Lochte is training with us.’
Lochte holds the 200m backstroke record.
Fraser was introduced to the sport by visionary Cayman coach Dave Kelsheimer who instilled in all his charges a winning attitude.
Peter Mackay is the president of the Cayman Islands Swimming Association and also father of Olympic hopeful Andrew.
‘Shaune has shown that with enough dedication, the right coaching and parental support how well you can do in swimming. He is now at the top end and getting money but for years it wasn’t easy and he has his parents to thank for that. Now we are going to have a 50m pool built in Cayman it could lead to other kids achieving in the sport,’ he said.
Fraser will be competing in the college NCAA competition from October culminating in the championships in March. Then he’s back to Colorado Springs for more Olympic training, honing himself for, hopefully, four events in Beijing; the 100m and 200m freestyle – which he’s already qualified for – and the 200m individual medley and 200m butterfly.
Olympic titles are never easy and Fraser is realistic about what he has to do.
There is Owen to overhaul and then the formidable Michael Phelps, multi-Olympic champion in Athens and 200m record holder who is four seconds faster than the Caymanian.
‘He’s ahead of me. We’ve never raced but I know I can definitely improve. I’m just going to take it step by step and work harder and pay attention to more detail. Most swimmers get shoulder injuries at some time, I’ve been lucky so far and not had any.’
Behind every successful swimmer there’s a committed family as it takes a lot of time and money to see the finished product. Years of getting up around 5am to train before school can take its toll on parents’ enthusiasm as well as the swimmer’s.
Many promising juniors fall by the wayside because of lack of familial support. Fraser is grateful that mum and dad, Laurice and Jim, have been so supportive in the past decade.
‘I’m really grateful that my family have supported me, more so my dad. It’s easier now I’m at college and have Olympic funding but it was much harder when I was home.’
He’s just about to start his second year of a business studies degree and will be joined by younger brother Brett, 17, another classy swimmer.
‘Brett’s pretty good. He can reach a higher level; he’ll improve although I don’t think he’s as committed as me.’ (Jim was in Jamaica this week with Brett who was competing.)
Fraser advises any youngster interested in pursuing swimming to the highest level to strive for whatever they can achieve. It’s given him some memorable experiences already at 21.
‘Meeting people, seeing different cultures, going to the States and studying pretty much for free; it’s been great. If you want to do it, do it from the heart and put in the effort and believe you can take it to the highest level possible. It’s been a great opportunity for me to travel, meet people and have fun.’