Swiss swim champ Dano Halsall here to discover rootsMonday, December 19, 2016
BY HOWARD WALKER Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
FORMER 50m Swiss freestyle world record holder Dano Halsall is in the island trying to discover his Jamaican roots and culture.
The 53-year-old Swiss hero is the son of Jamaican Conrad Halsall and the cousin of successful businessman Doug Halsall, the CEO of information technology company, Advanced Integrated Systems Limited.
Halsall would like to meet swimming sensation Alia Atkinson, athletics great Usain Bolt, and visit the Bob Marley Museum — the late reggae icon being his hero.
"The purpose of my visit is to meet my family, my roots actually, because I have never been to Jamaica before. This is the first time," said Halsall, who broke the 50m freestyle world record on July 21, 1985 as a 22-year-old.
"I am going to turn 54 in a few weeks, and three months ago I didn’t even know I have a big family here. And thanks to Facebook someone contacted me and I discovered that I have a big family. So it is very emotional for me," he told the Jamaica Observer from the posh Norbrook home of his cousin Doug.
"My father was born in Brown’s Town and lived in Montego Bay. He gave me the love of sports. When I was young we watched Muhammad Ali fight and watched the Olympics. I started swimming when I was eight and he was always behind me encouraging me, and he always said I was special. I was Jamaican, so I was special," Halsall revealed.
Halsall, who has a Swiss mother, is an 86-time Swiss champion, 92-time Swiss national record holder, with 58 wins in FINA competition.
"I am the only sportsman in Switzerland that had a world record in [any] sports. So that made me very famous. I was only 22 years old, and from that day I became like a national hero in Switzerland. I am still pretty famous; doing some TV shows and stuff like that," he pointed out, as he relaxed in a sofa just alongside the pool area.
With his Swiss wife Lena and son Suny enjoying a conversation with his cousin Matthew Halsall — the son of Doug — Dano took a deep breath then smiled.
"I always feel deep inside me that I am Jamaican. Because I don’t feel like Swiss people. I feel a lot different," he revealed. Feeling Jamaican indeed, as Halsall, who lives thousands of miles away from the Caribbean island, has been a keen follower of Jamaica’s achievements over the years that served as inspiration for him.
"I remember Don Quarrie running... Even the Jamaicans that were not running for Jamaica in Ben Johnson for Canada, Donovan Bailey for Canada, Linford Christie for England and that made me feel like I had everything inside me to be on top of the world," explained Halsall.
The powerful-looking swimmer, who retired in 1992, has won numerous freestyle swimming titles including the Rome World Cup in 1990; the European Cup in 1985, ‘87, ‘88 and ‘90.
Halsall also represented Switzerland at three Olympic Games reaching the finals on all three occasions.
"In 1984, in LA, maybe the best Olympics I took part. I missed a medal by 9/100th of a second in the 100m freestyle. Then I went to Seoul in 1988, and there I missed a medal by 5/100th of a second. That’s two medals I missed by centimetres and then in Barcelona, I finished eighth in the final. Olympics are very special," he noted.
In 1984 Halsall finished fifth, while Jamaica was represented by Deryck Marks and Gordon Scarlett, who finished 45th and 52nd, respectively. In 1988 Halsall was fourth behind American Matt Biondi.
But while he was reaping success for the country of his birth, Halsall had some regrets not representing Jamaica at some point.
"I was thinking about it, but I never went to Jamaica and I was living there (Switzerland). But deep inside me I always feel a part of me was Swiss, but a bigger part of me was Jamaican," he reiterated.
Halsall, who said he had few options in sports while growing, is willing to impart some of his knowledge to Jamaican swimmers.
"If I can do something for Jamaica that would be great for me. I heard Jamaica has a very good swimmer in Alia Atkinson and I would like to meet her," he added. "In Switzerland you don’t get a lot of sports. It was either skiing or hockey... So in swimming it was difficult," said Halsall.
Meanwhile, he has great admiration for the triple world record holder Usain Bolt.
"I love him because he is so great. But he is humble and funny, and he makes a lot for his sport and country. When you see all the competition he has been in, and when you see all the Jamaican flags…he is a great guy, and I would like to meet him," said Halsall.
"I want to go to Bob Marley Museum, because Bob is my hero. Then, tomorrow (Tuesday), I want to go on a tour to Ocho Rios. I want to see everything on the island before leaving," ended Halsall.