Sport

BUTTERFLY SPRING

Erin Gallagher breaks national record as big names make a splash at SA Swimming Championships

Erin Gallagher breaks national record as big names make a splash at SA Swimming Championships
Erin Gallagher after winning gold in the Women 50m butterfly on day one of the SA National Aquatic Championships in Gqeberha. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Tatjana Smith, Erin Gallagher and Pieter Coetzé all took gold in their 50m disciplines on Monday evening as the SA Swimming Championships got under way.

Erin Gallagher broke her national record in the 50m butterfly event on Monday evening at the South African Swimming Championships with a time of 25.59 seconds — edging her 25.66 seconds at the World University Games at the end of last year.

The first day of action at the SA Swimming Championships was all about the short sprints, with all the single-lap, 50m events taking place on Monday at Newton Park Swimming Pool in Gqeberha. 

sa swimming championships tatjana smith

Tatjana Smith on her way to gold in the women’s 50m breaststroke on day one of the SA National Aquatic Championships in Gqeberha. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

South Africa’s premier swimmers were on show and the spectators weren’t disappointed as Olympic champion Tatjana Smith — formerly Schoenmaker — and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Pieter Coetzé put on a show in the 50m breaststroke and 50m backstroke, respectively. 

Of all the 50m events, only the freestyle is an Olympic event, so most swimmers used day one of the national championships as a warm-up for the longer events in the same discipline — aiming for Olympic qualification. 

“I’m not over the moon with the time,” 19-year-old Coetzé said. “It would have been very nice to go faster than that, but it’s a 50m so I’m just glad I could get a warm-up swim on day one going into the rest of the meet.

sa swimming Pieter Coetzé

Pieter Coetzé in action during the men’s 50m backstroke one day one of the SA National Aquatic Championships at Newton Park Swimming Pool in Gqeberha on 8 April 2024. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

“I felt very good in the race. I can’t really put my finger on anything that felt bad, but I’ll go have a look at the video and see what I can work on… I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now.”

Coetzé raced to a 24.54-second win in the 50m backstroke, beating out Henju Duvenhage (25.25) and Jonah Pool-Jones (25.53). 

Smith (30.09), meanwhile had to fight hard for her 50m breaststroke gold medal, only just beating out African record-holder in the event Lara van Niekerk (30.16). Simone Moll (31.06) rounded off the podium finishes. 

“To start off with, the 50m just breaks the ice. No main events, no Olympic qualifying events; that just helps get ready for the rest of the gala,” Smith said. 

“I know it’s not really the same, but most of the time if I feel on the water for the 50m it means my 100m and 200m could possibly be a good one as well. 

“I don’t want to focus too far ahead and have big expectations, but it’s exciting to finally come closer to that 30 [seconds]. I hope one day to drop under that 30 seconds.”

No Olympic qualifying times were achieved in the only two Olympic events that took place on Monday — the men’s 1,500m freestyle and the women’s 800m freestyle. Kushagra Rawat and Duné Coetzee won the events in 15:40.13 and 8:40.13, respectively.

Record-breaking Erin 

But the big story of the day was Gallagher’s record-breaking sprint. 

“This afternoon I had really good energy and I could feel that if I’m going to swim a PB [personal best], now is the time to do it,” said the 25-year-old, who earlier in the day won her heat in a time of 25.70 seconds.

Gallagher will be aiming to achieve another spectacular finish in her main event, the 100m butterfly on Wednesday. 

“It’s always nice to think that if you do a PB in one event, it means all the others are going to be good but it’s a completely different race with completely different strategies,” she said. 

“The 50s are all about going as fast as possible, whereas the 100 is more of a controlled speed event. 

“You never really know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the event.”

Monday night’s other winners included Jarden Eaton (24.18) in the men’s 50m butterfly, Tayla Jonker (28.75) in the women’s 50m backstroke and Michael Houlie (27.15) in the men’s 50m breaststroke. DM

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