Sport

WHAT PAIN?

Determined Tatjana Smith swam with injury at SA Champs to claim Paris place

Determined Tatjana Smith swam with injury at SA Champs to claim Paris place
Tatjana Smith competed with a slight injury at the SA National Aquatic Championships, and produced superb performances. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Tatjana Smith is back to setting times that made her one of the world’s best breaststroke swimmers in Tokyo three years ago, despite nursing a serious injury.

After a few low-key years in the pool since the Tokyo Olympics, Tatjana Smith is back to her best and an injury-enforced break may have been the cause of it.

The 27-year-old swam rapid speeds at nationals this week. In her favoured breaststroke events, she recorded times of 2:19.01 in the 200m, 1:05.48 in the 100m and ​​30.09 in the 50m.

The 200m and 100m breaststroke times are her best since Tokyo three years ago, while her 50m time is a personal best.

After exiting the Newton Park Swimming Pool on Friday, having swum her second Olympic qualifying time in the 100m breaststroke, she admitted that she was in Gqeberha against doctors wishes, having sustained a serious groin injury just three weeks before.

“I have a doctor’s note to say that I’m injured,” she said hesitantly.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Five-star Pieter Coetzé shines brightest at with golden haul at SA Swimming Championships

“We had to play with [whether] we had to take that risk or not [but] I felt fine. I felt good so I begged them to swim and they allowed me to but they also said there is no pressure.

“I really didn’t want to use my injury as an excuse. It was definitely not. I was at my top performance and I believe I prepared as well as I could so the injury didn’t set me back at all.

“I had a second-degree strain on it so it was advised that I did not swim nationals, but I went against that.”

Competitive nature

Athletes have to swim at nationals in order to be selected to represent South Africa at a major international event in that year. This year, that event is the Olympic Games in Paris.

Smith was therefore initially only going to swim in the various heats in the morning sessions, but her competitiveness took over once she dived into the pool on Monday.

“Without going through my coach, I decided myself I was swimming finals and he just left me,” she said.

“I knew I would pull out if I felt it was getting really bad. Unfortunately I love being competitive so I’m very grateful that it hasn’t flared up and I’m still feeling strong.

“My times are looking insane for what the past three weeks have looked like in my life.

Rebecca Meder, who has qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 200m individual medley, gently swam a 50m backstroke heat on day one of the SA Swimming Championships – in order to be eligible to go to the Olympics – despite having suffered a burst appendix four weeks before.

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

“I was fortunate enough to have qualified [already] – obviously I have to participate at nationals – but the pressure wasn’t there because I’m already on the team,” Smith said.

“That took a lot [of pressure] off as well and that’s why my swims have been so much better, because I don’t have that pressure.

“I would have had a much bigger expectation on myself if I came in here with no injury. With the injury I could finally breathe.

“I’ve realised that it’s not that serious. I can just swim and have fun and I ended up swimming and having fun and doing well.”

Tatjana Smith

Tatjana Smith winning gold during the women’s 100m breaststroke. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

Paris bound

Smith was hesitant to disclose that she was nursing an injury, because she didn’t want people to think there was more than what she’s shown this week to come from the two-time Olympic medallist.

“It’s not to say I still have something in the bag,” she explained. “I really gave it my everything [this week].

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

“I knew my preparation, that’s why I was so excited, so when this hiccup did come it was really disappointing and I had to get my mind back into it.”

A side of the injury she has enjoyed was that it gave her a rest from strenuous training. “It was challenging but it was probably exactly what I needed.”

“I needed the rest for my leg. Our training has been so tough, I actually hurt it in just swimming, which says a lot about our training being really tough.

“I was so exhausted, so it was the exact rest I needed to perform at world-class standards.

“I think if it didn’t come, I might have looked much more tired, I had an extra little tempo.”

Smith is headed to Paris looking to return her 200m breaststroke title and go one better in the 100m breaststroke and claim gold for team South Africa. DM

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