MARK OF A SUPERSTAR
Schoenmaker back in the fast lane with world-class time at SA Champs
South African swimming superstar Tatjana Schoenmaker is approaching her best form at the National Championships in Gqeberha.
Olympic star Tatjana Schoenmaker was not to be outdone again in the 100m breaststroke, regaining her national title on the opening night of the SA National Aquatic Championships in Gqeberha on Wednesday. She finished ahead of teen rival and Commonwealth Games champion Lara van Niekerk.
There was a massive sigh of relief for the Olympic silver medallist in the event as she claimed the title in a time of 1:05.89 – not because she had beaten her young opponent who claimed the title in 2022, but because she had once again dipped under the 1:06 mark.
Schoenmaker’s victory equalled the second-fastest time in the world this year, with Van Niekerk second in 1:06.74.
“It was never about the title. If I came second or last – for me it was about those personal goals that I set for myself,” said a thrilled Schoenmaker afterwards.
“It is challenging to come back from a 1:04.8 [at the Olympics in Tokyo] and then never breaking 1:06, so it was really tough.
“I’ve seen it in training and my times have been looking great, but it just didn’t link with my racing, so I’m grateful to dip under that and see that my times in training are actually showing.”
Speaking about the great depth in South African women’s breaststroke, Schoenmaker added: “I think we have such an amazing breaststroke group… it’s always nice to have world-class swimmers with you in the race.
“We’re also all from NTS [Northern Gauteng] so there’s never a competition where you’re not stepping up against world-class swimmers.
“I think that’s challenging on the mental side because you’re not always feeling great but then it’s such a good challenge to push yourself every time you swim.”
Like they had done in the morning heats, both Van Niekerk and Schoenmaker comfortably achieved A qualifying times for the Swimming World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in July, while third-placed Kaylene Corbett’s time of 1:08.57 was a B qualifier.
Another Pretoria star, Pieter Coetzé, provided the highlight in the men’s programme, powering to a new national and continental record in the 100m backstroke.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tatjana and Kaylene – ‘It’s nice to cry on the podium, rather than next to the pool’
The 18-year-old’s time of 52.78 beat the record 52.95 he swam in the semifinals on his way to silver at the 2022 World Championships in Peru, and also placed him second-fastest in the world this year.
“To be honest, I didn’t really have any expectations time-wise, so I’m shocked and very happy with that because it’s still very early in the season,” said Coetzé.
“It’s a good start to the season and it’s getting me more riled up for the rest of the year.”
Coetzé had already dipped well under the World Championship mark in the morning heats and said heading into the final: “I was very relaxed and just excited and really looking forward to getting in the pool, so that definitely helped.”
Earlier in the evening, Aimee Canny claimed another A qualifying time in the 200m freestyle after doing so in the morning heats. She swam to victory in 1:57.82, in a race where the top four swimmers all dipped under two minutes.
Duné Coetzee was second in 1:59.05 and Erin Gallagher third in 1:59.50 (both B qualifying times).
“It felt really good this morning. I kind of took all the pressure off myself and I knew I had to do it again tonight. I knew I could do it – especially how easy it felt,” said Canny after her final.
“I definitely went out harder tonight. I felt it at the end but I didn’t die as hard as I probably could have.”
Speaking about the difference that training at the University of Virginia in the US has made, Canny added: “It’s crazy, training with the level of competition there is insane and I absolutely love it. It’s a great training environment and when I come back it gives me so much confidence to race.”
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Several disabled swimmers also achieved qualifying times for the Para Swimming World Championships which take place in Manchester, England, from 31 July to 6 August.
Amkele Qamarana swam an A qualifier in the SB15 50m breaststroke, powering to a personal best time of 34.47 in the evening final. Kat Swanepoel achieved her A qualifier in the SB3 50m breaststroke with a time of 58.54 in the heats while Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Christian Sadie swam 1:14.24 to qualify in the S7 100m backstroke.
Nathan Hendrick completed the haul of A qualifiers by swimming a time of 1:03.32 in the S13 100m backstroke.
SA National Aquatic Championship action continues in Gqeberha on Thursday and runs until Sunday, 16 April. DM