SA’s swimming stars set to make a splash at nationals meet

Tatjana Schoenmaker.

Tatjana Schoenmaker.

Places in the teams to represent South Africa at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games will be on the line as the country’s best swimmers head to Gqeberha for the SA National Swimming Championships next week.

Leading the charge will be Olympic champion and world record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker, who will be looking to defend the double gold she won at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Durban-born Chad le Clos and Pietermaritzburg product Matthew Sates are other leading lights.

“I’m very excited. It’s been a bit tougher than other years, just in the sense of getting back into things since everything has changed,” said Schoenmaker, whose life changed dramatically after claiming gold and silver at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“There are a lot of new responsibilities that came along in the past eight months. But it’s been very exciting and I’m always up for the challenge.”

With the major championships, where she’ll need to be at her peak, still several months away, Schoenmaker isn’t expecting to be in the same record-breaking form she was at last year’s SA Championships. She’s just relishing the chance to race alongside what’s fast becoming a world-class field of South African breaststrokers.

“I had never swum a PB at Nationals before — last year was the first time ever so I think that’s why you saw the shock on my face. Going into this Nationals there’s no expectation. I’m just focusing on my races. There are some fast girls, especially in the breaststroke. Kaylene [Corbett] and Lara [van Niekerk] are doing so well so I’m excited to see how they race. Not necessarily trying to beat each other — I think it’s just supporting each other to get into that team and then prove ourselves internationally,” added Schoenmaker.

Also lining up in Gqeberha will be four-time Olympic medallist Le Clos, who is battling his way back from illness, having spent time in hospital earlier in the year with bronchitis.

“It’s been a great year of training. I’ve managed to gather a group of youngsters to train with me in South Africa, mainly based out of Cape Town,” said Le Clos, who has entered the 100 m and 200 m freestyle, and the 50 m, 100 m and 200 m butterfly.

Le Clos said:

“I’m on my fourth round of antibiotics. I have chronic sinusitis and I have to have surgery to get that fixed, so we’re hoping to get that done, hopefully after Commonwealths … It’s been really bad but other than that the training has been going excellently, really well. I’ll hopefully qualify for a couple of races and then my goal is to become the most successful Commonwealth Games athlete in history come July.”

With 17 medals from three games already in the bag, Le Clos will need to win two more medals to surpass Australian shooter Phillip Adams, who holds the record.

“That’s a big goal of mine. I’m focusing very heavily on that. We’ve got the world champs before which will obviously be very important, but the Commonwealths is definitely my main focus for this year.

“I’m hoping to smash that record come July.”

Meanwhile, also looking to make a splash once again this year is rising star Sates (18) from the Midlands, who has returned to South Africa for the National Championships from the U.S. where he set the college circuit ablaze for the University of Georgia.

Having represented the country at the Olympics last year, Sates will be gunning for a first appearance at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. “My experience in the U.S. since January has been one that I am so happy to add to my list of blessings that have come my way with my swimming career. I was so kindly welcomed as part of the Bulldogs as soon as I arrived. Training with such a strong squad pushed my limits which I so enjoy doing. I think that anybody who trains hard and stays focused will always come back a stronger swimmer in many ways,” he said.

Sates made a name for himself internationally in the short-course pool in 2021 after securing the overall World Cup title. In Gqeberha, he has been entered into the 50 m, 100 m and 200 m butterfly, the 50 m, 100 m, 200 m and 400 m freestyle and the 200 m and 400 m individual medley.

Speaking about how he’s changed as a swimmer since last year’s Nationals, Sates said:

“Nationals in 2021 was an incredibly stressful time for me as I was needing to qualify for the Olympics and the pressure was intense. I think in the last year I have matured and racing the World Cups last year took the stress of galas to the next level. I go into competitions now taking what I learnt last year to hopefully keep on getting better and learning how to deal with all the different pressures that come with it. I enjoy Nationals as it is a time for all the SA swimmers to be together.”

Action at the Newton Park swimming pool will get underway on April 6 and run until April 11.

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