Five-star Pieter Coetzé shines brightest with golden haul at SA Swimming Championships

Five-star Pieter Coetzé shines brightest with golden haul at SA Swimming Championships
Pieter Coetzé was the star of the National Aquatic Championships, winning five gold medals. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

The national Swimming Championship ended on Saturday with nine South African swimmers set to jet off to the Paris Olympic Games.

The star of the national swimming championships at the Newton Park Swimming Pool in Gqeberha was undoubtedly 19-year-old Pieter Coetzé, who, after six days of swimming, took home five gold medals – winning every race he competed in.

On Saturday, he raced to first place in the 50m freestyle in 22.45 seconds, slower than his heat time earlier in the day of 22.36 but fast enough to beat everyone else in the pool.

He had already secured first-place finishes in the 100m freestyle, 50m backstroke, 100m backstroke and 200m backstroke throughout the week.

After six days of uninterrupted action, the swimmer naturally felt fatigue in his final race.

“I was really feeling tired before,” he said. “I was sitting in the ready-room yawning. I’m just happy to get the win tonight.”

Racing in lane four, Coetzé beat off Jimmy Clayton (22.83) and Guy Brookes (23.00) – who completed the podium – to the touchpad.

In lane three, next to him was veteran multi-Olympic medallist Roland Schoeman, who finished fourth.

Pieter Coetzé

Pieter Coetzé was the star of the SA National Aquatic Championships, winning five gold medals. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” Coetzé said about beating the African record-holder in the event.

“I was thinking before the race, it’s actually crazy. Ten-year-old me would be absolutely shocked. I just beat Chad [le Clos] and Roland [Schoeman] in one week.

“I’m still young and it’s early in my career. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to race against these guys.”

Despite his best gold medal haul yet at nationals, the youngster was not completely satisfied with his performances.

“I kind of expected a bit more of myself, time-wise, in some races, but five golds is always nice and I don’t want to be too hard on myself,” he said.

“I’ll take it. Now I’m just going to put it behind me and just enjoy myself for the next few days and wind down.”

Number nine

The number of swimmers who will represent South Africa at the Paris Olympic Games in three months has increased to nine after a competitive week of swimming.

American-based Aimee Canny became the ninth South African to qualify for the Olympics – in the 200m freestyle – after racing to a phenomenal time of 1:58.80 as a starter for the Western Cape Aquatics side in the 4x200m freestyle relay on Friday evening.

She had missed qualification in the final of the 200m freestyle on Wednesday evening by .13 of a second but bounced back sharply two days later.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA Champs conqueror Pieter Coetzé takes fourth title in four days

“Missing it by 0.1 [of a second] does suck a little bit,” she said after her blitz swim. “I’m super happy with that [qualifying] swim.”

“I had a good day to just process everything and then I was ready to go again.

“I knew that 0.1 [of a second] was nothing, especially in a 200m. I knew I was there.”

Having arrived in Gqeberha uncertain about whether she would make the flight to Paris, Canny was understandably elated to discover she had booked her ticket.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s something I’ve been practising and training for this moment so it’s so weird that it’s come true.”

Canny joins Rebecca Meder, Kaylene Corbett, Lara van Niekerk, Erin Gallagher, Tatjana Smith, Chad le Clos, Matthew Sates and Coetzé who have booked their ticket for the swimming pools in the Olympic Aquatics Centre in Paris.

The swimming Olympic qualification deadline is 23 June, about a month before the start of the Games.

Aimee Canny

Aimee Canny wins gold in the women’s 200m freestyle. She qualified for the Paris Olympics. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

swimming nationals Le Clos Sates

Chad le Clos (left) and Matthew Sates shared gold in the men’s 100m butterfly at the South African National Aquatic Championships in Gqeberha. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

A tied race

The tightest race of the championship took place with Sates and Le Clos swimming the exact same time for first place in 52.07 seconds in the 100m butterfly final earlier on Friday.

Sates turned quicker at the 50m stage, clocking in at 24.24 seconds while Le Clos turned in 24.40 seconds.

The experienced swimmer put his head down and managed to catch up and tie with 20-year-old Sates.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Erin Gallagher breaks national record as big names make a splash at SA Swimming Championships

“I thought I lost it,” Le Clos said after the race. “I knew I had to be head-down.

“I need to work on my easy speed. I’m not sure what it was, I’m assuming it was 24.7 [24.6], the same as the morning.

“I knew it was going to be tight. It wasn’t the fastest at nationals, sure, but I think that’s a cool way to end.

“It keeps the streak alive. That’s 14 100 butterfly finals in a row now. That’s 14 years undefeated at nationals.”

Coincidentally, the event took place on Le Clos’s 32nd birthday.

“All credit to Matt,” Le Clos said. “We both probably haven’t had the greatest of weeks, with all respect.

“It was a nice one for the fans and a good way to end my birthday.” DM


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