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Tandy hands over sprint baton to teenage star

Brad Tandy officially handed over the sprint freestyle baton to teenage star Pieter Coetzé on Sunday at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha.

The 30-year-old veteran announced his retirement from the sport after the 50m freestyle final. Having just flown into Gqeberha from the USA in the morning, Tandy was beaten to the title by the 17-year-old Coetzé, who powered to the wall in 22.34 seconds. That was slower that the World Championship and Commonwealth Games qualifying time he swam on the first leg of the 4x50m freestyle relay on Saturday evening.

Tandy swam a 22.49 to finish second and had a few words for his rival.

“He said: ‘Well done, it’s all yours now. You take it from here,’” revealed Coetzé afterwards. “So that was a great moment to share with him.

“To win it is great and obviously to race Brad was awesome, and very emotional to see him finishing. He’s one of the greatest guys in the world of swimming. He’s an amazing swimmer and I really got to know him in the village in Tokyo – he was like a mentor to the younger guys on the team, so it was great to experience the Olympics with him,” added Coetzé.

One of Tandy’s greatest achievements during his career was reaching the 50m freestyle final at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where he finished joint sixth in a speedy 21.79. He also claimed Commonwealth Games silver in 2018 and a bronze alongside Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh and Calvyn Justus on the 4x100m medley relay team, as well as excelling on the American college circuit.

“It’s quite an emotional one for me. They always say the starting is the hard part, but they don’t really give you a heads up on the finishing,” admitted Tandy after his final race.

“I was going to be happy with whatever I swam, just to be back here in South Africa, seeing the crowd. I didn’t win it, but I still got the applause… it means a lot to me.”

Speaking about making the decision to call it quits, the 30-year-old who now lives in Arizona explained: “I think it’s time for the next chapter of my life. To be honest, the little boy from Ladysmith, what I have achieved has surpassed all goals I set out. I could have retired happy after winning my first national championships. I’ve just been blessed and blessed in the sport but I just feel like all the stars are aligning, I’m getting married, job, right age – it feels good. There are some great up and coming swimming so I’m leaving it in good hands.”

Meanwhile, in the absence of Coetzé, who scratched from the 200m backstroke final, top honours went to fellow Pretoria swimmer Ruan Ras in 2:05.03. Coetzé had just missed out on the qualifying time in the morning heats with a 1:59.29, but chose to focus on the 50m freestyle in the evening. He’ll swim a time trial on Monday to try once more to dip under the required time.

Michaela Pulford took the 800m freestyle title in 8:46.33 while Olivia Nel claimed victory in the 50m backstroke in 28.81 seconds and Duné Coetzee won the 200m butterfly in 2:11.88.

The SA Swimming Championships continue for one more day at the Newton Park Swimming Pool, coming to an end on Monday, 11 April.

Swimmers who have achieved qualification times for the Commonwealth Games and FINA World Championships so far:

Women

  • Aimee Canny (200m freestyle)
  • Emma Chelius (50m freestyle)
  • Kaylene Corbett (200m breaststroke)
  • Tatjana Schoenmaker (50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke)
  • Lara van Niekerk (50m and 100m breaststroke)

Men

  • Pieter Coetzé (50m and 100m backstroke, 50m freestyle)
  • Michael Houlie (50m breaststroke)
  • Chad le Clos (100m, 200m butterfly)
  • Matt Sates (200m freestyle)
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