Former SIU star swimmer Herman Louw juggles classes and a job while making one final attempt to earn a spot in the Olympics

By Gus Bode

Standing on the south end of the Edward J. Shea Natatorium, former Saluki swimmer Herman Louw relived his ultimate moment as a Saluki in the Recreation Center pool.

You could not help but see the pride exude from the two-time MVC Swimmer of the Year’s face as the vacant stands came alive one last time.

It was during his senior season when former Saluki standout Chrysanthos Papachrysanthou approached the block for the 4-by-100-yard relay to chants of, “Big Papa! Big Papa!”


“He led off, and I anchored the relay,” Louw said. “Before I left, everybody went to the side of the pool and began yelling, ‘Showtime! Showtime!’ It was a thrilling moment that I will carry with me always.”

As it did quite a bit in those days, the Saluki relay team came in first place. And just as the Water Dawgs continue to rule the MVC, Louw continues to dream of swimming glory.

After more than 20 years of training and struggling in pursuit of his ultimate goal, Louw is determined to turn his dream of making the South African Olympic swim team into a reality.

“It is every kid’s dream to represent their country at the Olympic Games. It doesn’t matter if you win a medal or anything, just to be there and take part makes it worthwhile,” Louw said. “For some people, just being there is their a life goal and ambition. For me, that would be the same. Just to qualify and say that I’ve been there, that’s good enough for me.”

The South African Olympic Trials for the upcoming games will take place in March 2004. Louw came within a hair of realizing his dream at the 2000 trials.

Competing for a spot on the 4-by-100 relay team, Louw came 0.2 seconds short of the final spot. While most would feel dejected, Louw has continued to work hard for what will be his final attempt next year.

“I am going to give it one more shot, and that’s it. After that, I’m going to hang up the suit,” Louw said.


His target is the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, and the rigorous workouts begin at the end of the summer.

“I am kind of taking a break from the pool this summer,” said Louw, who wants to be a college swimming coach when it is all said and done. “I am actually doing some cross training, mostly cycling and running. But once school comes around again, it’s back in training.”

While many have the dream but lack the talent, there is no questioning Louw’s, which he has proven time and again in national and international competition.

In what he describes as the moment he is most proud of as a swimmer, Louw finished in second place in the 100-meter freestyle and fourth in both the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley at the nationally recognized U.S. Open meet three years ago.

Louw was also MVC champ in the 100 and 200 freestyle in 1999, as well as 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley champ in 2000, his final season as a Saluki.

“He’s really talented. He was born for it,” said Gustavo Leal, graduate assistant coach for the Salukis and a former teammate of Louw’s at Indian River Community College and SIU. “He’s a big guy. He’s strong, and his strokes are almost perfect. That’s the perfect combination for a good swimmer.”

No one knows Louw’s skills better than fellow South African native and long-time friend Corne Prozesky. Prozesky, a teammate of Louw’s on the Northern Province swim team in South Africa and at SIU, describes Louw as a great guy with equally impressive swimming abilities.

“Herman is a great swimmer. He can swim any event there is,” Prozesky said. “Even the backstroke is his weakest stroke, but he can do that as well. He is an incredible swimmer.”

But given Louw’s hectic schedule, SIU men’s swimming head coach Rick Walker said he has a tough road ahead of him.

“He certainly has the talent,” Walker said. “I don’t know with his current schedule if he can put it together, but he has the potential if he gets serious and ups that as a priority.”

Louw is currently a graduate student in sports marketing at SIU and is a teaching assistant in the physical education department. Despite his goal of making the Olympics, Louw cannot afford to completely drop school and work for swimming, whether it impedes his journey or not.

“I can’t give up on one to concentrate on the other, so I am going to keep on going to school and training at the same time,” Louw said. “I think in a way it will be a disadvantage because to other swimmers it is like a full-time job.

“They will probably take off a year and just concentrate on swimming. But I am supporting myself, so I’ve got to go to school and continue to teach. I can’t give up anything.”

Even though Louw has a difficult time ahead of him, he has one thing going for him – his incredible combination of size and speed.

“Strength and power,” said Walker, simply stating the advantages Louw has thanks to his awesome physique.

Being big and strong will not guarantee a stellar swimming career, but Louw is blessed with more than just an imposing build, as pointed out by Walker.

“It depends on physical makeup. Either you have fast-twitch muscle fibers or slow-twitch muscle fibers,” Walker said. “If he had slow-twitch muscle fibers, being big and strong wouldn’t help him. But he has a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers and that makes him fast.”

Whether or not Louw makes it to the Olympics, he will leave it all on the line in his final attempt. In response to Walker’s claim that for any person to make the Olympics it all has to come together at the right time and place, Louw had this to say.

“Every year I went home for my nationals, I felt in my mind it was the right time and the right place. It all depends,” Louw said. “This year when I went home for Nationals, I know I didn’t put in the amount of training I wanted to put in. I have one year left and I’m going to give everything I have.

“I think when March rolls around, it will be the right time.”

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]