Sport

SWIMMING

Tatjana Smith regains her mojo as SA Champs produces three more Olympic qualifying times

Tatjana Smith regains her mojo as SA Champs produces three more Olympic qualifying times
Kaylene Corbett pushed Tatjana Smith all the way in the women's 200m breaststroke final. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Tatjana Smith and Kaylene Corbett produced a masterclass in 200m breaststroke swimming as they, along with Pieter Coetzé, registered Olympic qualifying times on Wednesday evening.

There were three more Olympic qualifications on day three of the South African Swimming Championships on Wednesday. 

Pieter Coetzé secured his third national gold medal in three days — having already won the 50m backstroke and 100m freestyle events — after claiming a dominant first-place finish in the 200m backstroke with a personal best and Olympic qualifying time of 1:55.85. 

Dylan Wright (2:02.46) and Helgaard Muller (2:04.39) were well behind in second and third place. 

Tatjana Smith (2:19.01) — formerly Schoenmaker — and Kaylene Corbett (2:23.71) were the day’s other two Olympic qualifiers after blitzing to first and second in the 200m breaststroke event. Simone Moll (2:31.62) finished third. 

It was the second time in the day the two superstar swimmers reached an Olympic time after Corbett delighted the Newton Park Swimming Pool crowd in the morning’s fifth heat of the 200m breaststroke with a time of 2:23.84.

In the very next heat, Smith went even better to register 2:19.92. Naturally, all eyes were on the two athletes when the final rolled around later in the evening, and Smith shaved nearly a second off her heat time. 

“I can’t really grasp the concept … after that race [I realised that] I’m split seconds away from my PB [personal best],” Smith said after the final. 

“I know 2:19 [is an achievement] right now and with the world record being at 2:17 [2:17.55] what is a 2:18 really? 

“I’m just grateful to be back on the times. I’m feeling myself again in the water. I was struggling to find my rhythm in the water and I think I’ve gotten it now.”

Smith vs Corbett

Corbett also stepped up her pace in the final, going more than a tenth of a second faster.

“I don’t think we’re ever satisfied,” Corbett said. “I would’ve enjoyed to go a little bit faster, but it’s all relative, it’s how I feel at the moment.

“At the end of the day, this is just a stepping stone to Paris. This is where we are right now. You check where you are right now, then you move from there.” 

For Smith, who set the 200m breaststroke record in Tokyo in 2021 — it was broken by Russia’s Evgeniia Chikunova last year — it was a relief to get back to her best. 

“This morning was quite surprising,” she said. “I felt quite comfortable. I was expecting maybe a 2:21, if I was lucky a 2:20, so when I saw 2:19 it was unreal. 

“The finals are a bit tougher because you’re a bit tired from the morning, but that’s the point of going out hard in the mornings, to challenge yourself. 

“If you push yourself over that line then you can expect to do a bit better in the finals.”

Smith believes achieving her season’s best before the Olympics is a good omen. She did the same in the 2021 nationals just before she broke the world 200m breaststroke record at the Tokyo Olympics with a time of 2:18.95. 

“It gives a bit of confidence,” she said. You always want to do well in the nationals. I’ve never really PB’d at nationals.” 

“The 2021 trials I PB’d and this one I PB’d so I’m very grateful. Normally I never come close to my time. It is a confidence boost.” 

‘Saving the body’

pieter coetze sa champs

Pieter Coetzé secured a third gold medal at the SA National Aquatic Championships with a 200m backstroke victory. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Coetzé, who has swum every day of the nationals so far, shaved nearly 10 seconds off his heat time in the 200m backstroke event on Wednesday evening.

[I was] saving the body a little bit,” he said. “It’s a long meet with a lot of racing. Even though it looked very easy and it was very easy this morning, my muscles were still hurting. It’s tough to believe, but I’m glad I did that.”

Coetzé’s time was the best of his young career, but he is still perfecting the finer details of the 200m event.

“[I’m learning] how to pace it,” he said. “It’s a tough thing because there’s so many different ways you can do it.

“Some people [start] very fast and just try to hold on. Other people, including myself, try to save a little bit for the last 100 or the last 50. 

“I’ve been trying different things but I’ll find what works for me and by the time Paris [Olympics] comes around I’ll have my strategy mapped out.”

In the evening’s other action, Matthew Randle took gold in the men’s 200m breaststroke with a time of 2:14.01, Matthew Sates won his second gold of the week in the men’s 200m freestyle in 1:48.82 and Hannah Pearse came first in the women’s 200m backstroke in 2:12.19.

None of the times was quick enough for Olympic qualification, however.

Late drama

There was a dramatic end to the evening when, in the final race, Aquatics Gauteng Tshwane false-started in lane four of the 50m men’s relay freestyle.

The race was not stopped, as is the rule at nationals, but it caused KwaZulu-Natal Aquatics’ starter, 43-year-old Olympic gold medalist Roland Schoeman — who was racing in lane five — to not dive into the pool. 

The KwaZulu-Natal team manager confirmed with Daily Maverick that Schoeman was aiming for a berth at the Olympic Games in the 50m freestyle event which he could have achieved with an opening time of 21.96.

There was subsequently no medal ceremony for the 50m freestyle as the decision for the race is currently under protest by KwaZulu-Natal Aquatics.

Schoeman will have another opportunity to reach his lofty goal on Friday when the 50m freestyle events take place. DM

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