our news media has simply accepted Ryk's denial of what his ex-girlfriend Amanda Beard calls "trying to figure out how to live in a bad relationship."
You would think the South African media, and the public, would take seriously the allegation that Ryk might not be the perfect partner, since the image most South Africans have of Neethling in the media, and via his persona, is that he is an ideal man, and perhaps an ideal partner to the fairer sex.
But almost every headline in South Africa seems to second-guess Beard's assertions and support Ryk; each one trumpets the same carbon copy: Ryk Denies Drug Claims. None have raised an eyebrow or even pondered the 'what ifs'. Instead, if anything, The Star goes even further to ingratiate themselves with our hero, providing a caption to the Ryk picture with the words, "Drug Free", as though this were already an established fact. Says who?
It is also interesting to compare the mildness of the fuss (this story instantly fizzled) of one of South Africa's most famous athletes to the brouhaha surrounding Hansie Cronje - for something as exotic, but boring, as matchfixing in India. Here you have a world champion gold medalist in America, one of the most downloaded sportswomen in history, making incredible claims about our homeboy, and they're not worth thinking about? That's not news?
In a recent article published in the South African edition of HEAT magazine, Roland Schoeman, a far more accomplished swimmer than Neethling (twice world champion in two individual events, and in a head to head contest in the 2004 Olympics, Schoeman won a silver, Neethling came 4th, the closest Neethling could ever come to an individual Olympic medal) is less than complimentary about South Africa's golden boy. If anyone should know Ryk behind the scenes it is Roland, who spent 8 years swimming with Ryk at the same academy in Tuscon Arizona. Schoeman doesn't mince words, comparing Ryk's (fake) persona to Tiger Woods and using words such as "manipulative, calculating, self serving, egotistical" and "just unsavory". Schoeman contends that "he has led on the entire country." Others swimmers have been more cautious, making similar comments but opting to remain anonymous.
The Heat article goes on to say that Ryk had "no comment" to respond to the article, and quotes a few friends close to Ryk saying "this doesn't sound like Ryk..." and making similar broad, insubstantial, and otherwise nonsense statements.
Let's not forget the longevity of the Hansie saga, something many of us can still remember clearly (and painfully). And against the context of the hysteria surrounding athletes such as Lance Armstrong, and the sexual addiction plaguing Tiger Woods, the resignation of our media doesn't match. Andre Agassi recently admitted to doing drugs (crystal meth) in his biography, it was a big deal, and it should be. These are charismatic champions that we admire, but it turns out, some of those fairy tales are very far from perfect at times. So why not say so? Even if Ryk did do drugs, is it such a big deal?
Beard wrote in her auto biography In the Water They Can’t See You Cry that she would only get along with Neethling when she was using drugs. This, upon closer scrutiny, is a very odd thing to say. In other words, for her, she wasn't taking the drugs just for the enjoyment, but to attempt to enable a dysfunctional relationship. What was dysfunctional about it? And further, what was Ryk's motive in using drugs with Amanda Beard (if indeed he did)? And did they have any problems trying to withdraw from drugs?
She says: As a freshman, she caught the eye of South African swimming star Ryk Neethling, a senior on the Wildcats' team. They began a volatile relationship that lasted through the 2004 Athens Olympics. Beard writes how the couple had "loud screaming mean fights" and she started cutting herself to escape the pain.
This speaks of some serious problems in a relationship, beyond the ordinary. Don't South Africans care what they are? Cutting oneself to escape the pain sounds like something very messed up that Beard couldn't put her finger on. "I wasn't trying to kill myself," she writes. "I was trying to figure out how to live in a bad relationship." That statement also suggests that something was going on in the relationship that she couldn't figure out. Possibly a deception, possibly her own insecurities, but perhaps not.
According to CBSnews: Beard's star eventually eclipsed Neethling's, something she said he couldn't accept even though she was supporting him financially after turning pro. She describes a two-month visit to his family in South Africa that included use of Ecstasy, cocaine and acid.
Note that there are a few allegations in this. That apparently Ryk was using drugs while at home or close to home. Were either of his sister's involved? Also, if it's true, it's not because Beard was failing or struggling in her swimming, in fact the opposite was true. So if Beard's swimming career was a success, what was the motive for Ryk to take drugs (again, if he did).
Another point is that Beard doesn't suggest that they simply used one drug, but several. The drugs she names are the sort of recreational (party) drugs that frequent visitors to Ibitha might use, not so? CBS goes on to say that Beard never succeeded in getting the attention and approval she so desperately sought from Neethling, who eventually moved back home. Again, why was it so difficult, doing so well at swimming, to love and appreciate this beautiful, and talented swimmer?
And Ryk isn't the only boyfriend she singles out (it's not a conspiracy) - her relationship with Nascar driver Carl Edwards was also not quite right, though for slightly different reasons. Read about that here:
Not long after their relationship ended, Beard began dating NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, who comes off as controlling and jealous in the book. She writes that while their sex life sizzled, Edwards tried to control her, ordering her not to talk to other drivers at his races. She writes that their yearlong relationship was mostly one-way, with Beard following him from track to track and Edwards paying little attention to anything in her life.
"I don't know if I'll hear from them," Beard said about her famous exes.
Point is, it doesn't sound made up, does it? Have a watch and decide for yourself if Beard seems
Ryk's response to all this wasn't, "No, I never used drugs." But this: “It should be noted that international athletes are subjected to frequent random drug tests in and out of competition. I passed every one of the close-on 200 blood and urine tests I did during my career.” It reminds me of Bill Clinton, who famously said: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." [Pause]. "Miss Lewinsky." Except that he did.