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SA teen Van Niekerk cruises into world champs final

Saturday, 25 June 2022 - Lara van Niekerk stormed to victory in her 50m breaststroke semi-final in Budapest on Friday night to book a spot in her first ever World Championships final.
SA teen Van Niekerk cruises into world champs final

FINA World Aquatics Championships 2022

The 19-year-old once again dipped under 30 seconds, winning her semi-final in 29.99. With that she qualified third fastest for the final. The only swimmers quicker on the night were Italian world record holder Benedetta Pilato, who won the other semi-final in 29.83, and former world record holder Ruta Meilutyte who finished second in 29.97.

“I knew I was ahead – I didn’t really see anyone, but I knew it was going to be close,” said Van Niekerk afterwards.

“I’m happy to be under 30 seconds again. It shows that it’s starting to become consistent, going under 30 seconds.”

As for competing in her first international final at senior level, the Pretoria teen added: “I think I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it, not let the pressure get to me and just see what I can do.”

Speaking about Saturday night’s final and taking on the likes of Pilato and Meilutyte, Van Niekerk’s coach Eugene da Ponte reckoned: “We’ve always been pretty good at not racing the people next to us and just racing the clock so we’ve got a time in mind of what might win it tomorrow and that’s going to be what we’re chasing. We’re not going to be too worried about who is swimming next to us.”

Adding what the ultimate goal is, Da Ponte said: “Obviously a gold medal. Being a world champion, besides the Olympics, is the pinnacle for any athlete. But I would be happy for her to just medal. It’s her first big international meet at senior level so to make that step up and get onto the podium would be really nice, but we’ll give it a good go and see what happens.”

The other South African in action on Friday evening, Emma Chelius, just missed out on a spot in the 50m freestyle final after finishing in ninth place overall.

Chelius finished fifth in her semi-final in a time of 24.87 – exactly the same time she swam in the morning heats – and just missed out on the final by one hundredth of a second.

“Obviously I’m quite disappointed after coming so close to being in that final,” said the Durban swimmer afterwards. “I knew it was going to be very close. I was up against some really fast girls and it’s down to those tiny details.

“Unfortunately I fell just outside of the final but we’re building towards Commonwealths and I’m really excited to see that I’m on track, so looking forward to Birmingham and hoping to go a little bit faster there… I always learn something new when I’m racing against girls of this calibre so it’s been an awesome experience.”

Meanwhile, earlier in the day Ayrton Sweeney made history in becoming the first male artistic (previously synchronised) swimmer to represent South Africa – and Africa – at the World Championships.

Competing with Laura Strugnell, the pair finished 13th overall in the Mixed Duet Free preliminaries.

“Today Laura and I made history,” said the elated Sweeny who previously represented the country in swimming on many occasions.

“It was the most incredible experience… It was just unreal. The crowd was going absolutely wild. We had the best time. Our theme was party and we partied, the crowd partied – it was epic and I cannot wait to see what we do next.

“I have said already in writing and on camera that Laura and I will be back at world champs next year. We’ve got a little bit more training in us, we’re going to do something crazy and absolutely kill it. It’s going to be unreal. Don’t forget about us because we’re coming back.”

ENDS

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Swimming South Africa is the governing body of aquatics in South Africa.

Its objective is to encourage the practice of aquatic disciplines for all in South Africa with the purpose of promoting swimming as a life skill through Learn to Swim programmes; providing healthy exercise to South Africans of all ages and races; recruiting recreational swimmers to compete in the various competitions; and promoting competition and athlete development to the highest level. Swimming South Africa is kindly supported by SASCOC, National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Arena, Sport & Recreation SA and Rand Water.

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