SA swimmers shine with a host of records and qualifying times for Worlds at SA Champs

SA swimmers shine with a host of records and qualifying times for Worlds at SA Champs
Erin Gallagher added to her 100m butterfly victory by taking the 50m butterfly in a time of 26.31. (Photo: Supplied by Swimming SA)

South African swimmers continued to punch above their weight at the SA National Championships in Gqeberha as records tumbled.

Teen swimming sensation Pieter Coetzé wrapped up the SA National Aquatic Championships in Gqeberha with another Olympic qualifying time on Sunday.

The 18-year-old, who has already recorded a qualifying time for Paris 2024 in the 100m backstroke, added the 200m backstroke time, cruising to victory in 1:56.66 – also an A qualifier for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan later this year.

“I was feeling a little bit tired so I thought it might not go well tonight. So I’m actually a little bit shocked with that, but very happy,” said Coetzé, who explained he’s still working on perfecting the 200m event.

“I would like to be out in 56 and still bring it back in the same time because the top guys in the world are going out fast. I’ve always been a bit of a back-end swimmer so that’s something I have to work on. But this was a bit of a better split than what I usually do, which is negative splitting, so I can definitely see the improvement.”

Teenage sensation Pieter Coetzé, who had already recorded a qualifying time for Paris 2024 in the 100m backstroke, added the 200m backstroke time, cruising to victory in 1:56.66. (Photo: Supplied by Swimming SA)

Also achieving an A qualification time for the World Championships was Erin Gallagher. The 24-year-old added to her 100m butterfly victory by taking the 50m butterfly in a time of 26.31, ahead of Rebecca Meder (26.87) and 15-year-old Jessica Thompson (26.91).

Gallagher was also elated to dip below the 58-second mark in the 100m butterfly for the first time since 2019. She stopped the clock on 57.84 seconds to secure qualification for both the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Schoenmaker back in the fast lane with world-class time at SA Champs

“It’s amazing to know that I’m on track. It’s quite emotional – I’m surprised I’m not crying right now,” said Gallagher. As for achieving the Olympic qualifying time, she added: “It was something that I was trying to go for. My coach said it was time to now swim a qualifying time so just to know that I’ve done it is such a weight lifted off my shoulders and I’m so, so grateful.”

Records set

Earlier in the week Meder bettered her own South African 200m individual medley record to claim the title in a speedy 2:11.39.

Olivia Nel set a new record in the women’s 50m backstroke. Fresh from her victory in the 100m backstroke earlier in the meeting, the 20-year-old took the sprint title in a new South African mark of 28.39, bettering Chanelle van Wyk’s 2009 time of 28.55.

There was also an A qualifier in the 400m freestyle, Duné Coetzee, claiming the title in 4:10.49.

Emma Chelius after winning the 50m freestyle title on Saturday night. The Olympic semi-finalist reached the wall in a speedy 24.78. (Photo: Supplied by Swimming SA)

There was a surprise A qualification time for Duné Coetzee in the 800m freestyle. The US-based swimmer powered to victory in 8:33.46. (Photo: Supplied by Swimming SA)

“I tried to go fast from the beginning but my first 200 I wasn’t as in control as I wanted to be. I wanted to feel the water, which is something I can fix, but I came back really strong which I’m very happy about,” said Coetzee.   

Earlier in the day Emma Chelius swam a time trial with the goal of achieving the A qualifying time she just missed on her way to the 50m freestyle title on Saturday night. And it was mission accomplished as the Olympic semifinalist reached the wall in 24.78.

“I just felt like I still had more to give and it’s always nice to make the most of a long block of training and then a taper because we don’t get that very often,” said Chelius. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Meder, Nel rewrite the record books on second night of South African swimming champs

“And especially for a 50 I think all those small details have to come together so I really just wanted to have another crack at it. I’m very glad that it paid off and I feel very relieved and happy that it’s done.

“I think I was a lot more aggressive this morning. I knew I had nothing to lose.”

Le Clos back to his best

Chad le Clos, Erin Gallagher and Lara van Niekerk stole the show on the fourth night of the championships, which also featured numerous other standout performances on Saturday.

Following his victories in the 200m butterfly and 100m freestyle, Le Clos continued to impress in the 100m butterfly, powering to an Olympic qualifying time of 51.37 and outgunning young Matt Sates to the title.

Second-placed Sates nevertheless achieved an A qualifying time for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, this July, finishing in a speedy 51.91.

“I’m really happy with the week. I was a little nervous… for some reason, Matt and I have these ding-dong battles in the final 10m and it’s always super-close, but I’m delighted with the time and the result and now we try and win this race next year at the Olympic Games. Now I’m confident I can win,” said Le Clos afterwards.

Roland Schoeman and Pieter Coetzé after the 50m freestyle final. (Photo: Supplied by Swimming SA)

“Tonight I was finessed, I was controlled, hit my strokes, hit the turn well and I thought he was coming so I just put my head down so I’m over the moon. But now we push on to the Olympics – they’ve got a lot of trouble coming their way. That’s what I can promise you.”

Teen breaststroke sensation Van Niekerk had earlier swum the fastest time in the world this year in the 50m breaststroke heats (29.83) and went even quicker in the evening final, taking the title in 29.78 ahead of Tatajana Schoenmaker, who also achieved the A qualifying time in 30.71.

Michael Houlie ensured he was not to be outdone in the men’s 50m breaststroke, recording A qualifying times in both the heats (27.29) and final (27.31).

There was a surprise A-qualification time for Duné Coetzee in the 800m freestyle. The US-based swimmer powered to victory in 8:33.46.

Earlier that evening, it wasn’t quite the dream comeback veteran Roland Schoeman had envisaged, beaten to the 50m freestyle title by a man 24 years his junior, but the 42-year-old nevertheless defied his years to finish second in 22.89 to Pieter Coetzé’s 22.30. Like he’d done in the morning, Schoeman’s time saw him setting a new masters world record for swimmers aged 40 to 44.

Schoeman wrapped up his return to the championships with a first national title since 2015. The 42-year-old claimed the win in the 50m butterfly ahead of Clayton Jimmie and Ryan Coetzee, but his time of 23.83 fell short of the A-qualifying time for the World Championships.

Meanwhile, Minke Janse van Rensburg was once again in record-breaking form, leading the way for the swimmers with a disability. The 18-year-old powered to another world record for swimmers with Down syndrome in the 100m freestyle, bettering her own mark with a time of 1:17.61.

Kat Swanepoel swam almost a full 10 seconds under the A qualifying time for the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester in the heats of the S4 50m backstroke, finishing in an impressive 50.93 seconds.

Despite breaking a finger during her warm-up, Swanepoel broke the South African and African record in the SM4 150m individual medley, setting a new mark of 2:56.84. That also saw her dipping under the A qualifying time for the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester by a massive margin. DM

Swimmers who achieved A qualifying times for the World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka


Aimee Canny: 200m freestyle

Emma Chelius: 50m freestyle

Duné Coetzee: 400, 800m freestyle

Kaylene Corbett: 200m breaststroke

Erin Gallagher: 50, 100m butterfly

Rebecca Meder: 200m individual medley

Tatjana Schoenmaker: 50, 100, 200m breaststroke

Lara van Niekerk: 50, 100m breaststroke


Pieter Coetzé: 50, 100m, 200m backstroke

Michael Houlie: 50m breaststroke

Chad le Clos: 100, 200m butterfly

Matt Sates: 100m butterfly


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