Every South African a Swimmer

Van Niekerk breaks Games record as three South Africans book spot in same final

Van Niekerk breaks Games record as three South Africans book spot in same final
Friday, 29 July 2022 - Four South African swimmers booked their places in their respective Commonwealth Games finals on the first evening of swimming at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham, three of them in the same race.

Lara van Niekerk was again in sensational form as she dived in for the semifinal of the 50m breaststroke. Having set a new Commonwealth Games record of 29.82 in the morning heats, the 19-year-old went even quicker in the evening, winning in a time of 29.80.

“I’m happy. Just breaking the Games record twice in a day is a big achievement so hopefully tomorrow night in the final I can maybe swim a PB. It would be amazing,” she said referring to the African record of 29.72 she set at the National Championships earlier this year.

“It’s also great to have that amazing group of girls with me in the final. It’s definitely going to calm the nerves knowing that they are there with me and I’m not all on my own.”

In the same 50m breaststroke semifinal, fellow South African Kaylene Corbett, whose focus is very much on the 200m breaststroke event, also qualified for the final, finishing fourth in 31.43.

Just a race earlier Olympic 200m breaststroke champion Tatjana Schoenmaker finished second in her semifinal in 30.94 to make it three South Africans in the final.

“It’s very strange for me and Kaylene because this is not our event at all, so I think she’s going to be super-happy because she’s never got this far in a 50. Somehow I was just very lucky. My speed isn’t there yet but hopefully it’s because the 200 will be a bit better,” said Schoenmaker afterwards.

Corbett added: “It’s definitely humungous for me, because I’ve never been in a 50 final. I’ve never excelled in anything except 100 and 200 – well, 200 mostly. So it is emotional and very exciting – and having three girls in the final is just incredible.”

Also showing some impressive speed was young Pieter Coetzé who was the only swimmer to dip under the 54-second mark in the 100m backstroke semifinals. He reached the wall in 53.67 to cruise through to the final.

“It was nice to have a semifinal before me so I could see what we needed for the final and save a little bit,” he said afterwards. Asked if there’s still more in the tank, the 18-year-old added: “I believe so – I don’t want to call it, but I hope so.”

Earlier in the evening, Matt Sates finished seventh in the 400m freestyle final, touching in a time of 3:50.07 while the Australians claimed a clean sweep of the first medals on offer in the pool with Elijah Winnington taking gold in 3:43.06, Sam Short the silver (3:45.07) and Mack Horton the bronze (3:46.49).

“It wasn’t too great. But we just move on and go again tomorrow. I’ve got the 400 IM and the 200 freestyle so we’ll have to see how tomorrow goes,” said Sates afterwards.

Other South Africans in action on Friday night were Chad le Clos and Clayton Jimmie, who missed out on reaching the 50m butterfly final.

Le Clos finished fifth in his semifinal in 23.67.

“That was close, but I said it was going to be like that. I’m happy though. A final would have been great but generally I’m not too concerned about the 50. It’s one of my better times I’ve done so I’m happy and I’m feeling good.”

Jimmie finished seventh in the same semifinal and was thrilled with his time of 24.09.

“It was amazing. I swam my all-time best time and I’m very pleased with my swim. My preparation was very good so I was hoping to go below 24 seconds – that would have been great – but I’m happy with my performance,” said Jimmie, who will also compete in the 50m freestyle and the relays.

Erin Gallagher, Dune Coetzee and Trinity Hearne missed out on the 100m butterfly final. Gallagher finished fourth in her semi in 59.02 while Coetzee was eighth in the same race in 1:00.51 and Hearne finished eighth in her semi in 1:00.60.

“I really expected to be better but it’s the first day and I still have a lot of races to go so I can take what I learnt from this race and use it for my races to come,” said Gallagher.

Coetzee wasn’t too pleased with her result but her focus remains elsewhere. “I wasn’t too happy with the race… I haven’t been swimming a lot of butterfly because I had a little shoulder injury,” she said.

“I’ve been focusing more on my freestyle so I’m surprised that I even made the semifinals. I just tried to take in the experience and have some fun with it,” added Coetzee, who will swim the 400m freestyle and lead off the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay.

Competing at her first Commonwealth Games, 18-year-old Hearne was thrilled to have reached the semifinal.

“I was definitely a bit nervous going in because it’s my first Commonwealths and first semi so I just tried to enjoy the experience and focus on my own race, so I was pretty happy with how I went,” she said. “It was definitely a big shock to make the semis because I didn’t expect it at all.”

Swimming action continues at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham on Saturday morning.


Photo credit: TeamSA/Anton Geyser

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