Sweeney pockets first gold in Hong Kong | TeamSA - TeamSA

Sweeney pockets first gold in Hong Kong


By Mark Etheridge

South Africa’s Ayrton Sweeney makes no bones about the fact that Hong Kong’s his favourite city away from home… now he has even more reason to think so.

Reason being that the Cape Town swimmer picked up his first international gold medal in the Far Eastern city.

That came in the Hong Kong leg of the FINA/airweave World Cup series where he won the 400-metre Individual Medley event. Making the golden moment even more special was the fact that it came less than an hour after he’d swum to fourth spot in the 200m breaststroke.

‘Hong Kong’s just a favourite city,’ Sweeney (pictured right with fellow swimmer Cameron van der Burgh) he tells Team SA. ‘I’ve had a few family holidays there, so lots of nostalgia involved.

‘I went a few days earlier to acclimatize and got to have a nice beach training season with my pal, Renato Prono from Paraguay, also a breaststroker.

‘Getting gold was a huge moment for me. On another occasion I may have scratched from the 200m breast to concentrate on the 400 IM but I was there for race-training and getting as much swimming in as possible.

‘So in the 200 I swam 2min 08.75sec for fourth and it’s good to see I’m swimming consistent times of 2:08.’

Moving on to the 400m and Sweeney decided to make the best of the constricted time-frame. ‘It’s not the most time you could have between races but it was OK and I thought of it as maybe using the 200m as a nice warm-up for the IM.

‘Getting gold was just insane and almost surreal and it was also nice that it was a good time (4:07.76), just 0.5sec or so off my personal best.’

That saw Sweeney leaving Hong Kong on a high for the next leg in the World Cup cluster. ‘We left Hong Kong that same night [well 2am the next morning] to get there as quickly as possible. ‘It’s a rough flight in the middle of the night but most people were in the same boat. That’s the thing about the World Cups… everyone’s tired for most of the time but just end up getting on with it.’

Doha saw him doing the same schedule, doubling up – this time over the 200m IM and 400 IM. ‘I wasn’t too stressed but needed a fair bit of self-motivation.’

He ended up with another fourth spot, clocking 1:58.34

And then, again 45min later, he took on the 400m IM and although this time out he wasn’t quite quick enough for gold, a second place saw him sealing silver.

Winner was Azerbaijan’s Maksym Shemberev in 4:06.72 with Sweeney 0.32sec behind.

‘It was a strong field with Makysm and Gergely Gyurta of Hungary in the field and a very close finish. I gave it my all and didn’t leave anything in the pool.’

Sweeney went on to mention the heat support in Doha. ‘It was just crazy hey… not only from the South African crowd but from all nations. Every time you went out on pool deck for finals the crowd would go wild – definitely the loudest group of spectators I’ve ever experienced.’

And he also got to mix ‘business’ with pleasure. ‘The main thing is to make swimming fun. One gets so caught up with finals and times and medals but you have to have fun at the same time.

‘So my three main moments of this trip were going to my favorite city, Hong Kong; swimming off the beach with Renato in Repulse Bay and then my roomie Cameron [van der Burgh] went to a local soukh in Doha and had an absolutely cool dining experience.’

For the rest of the year, Sweeney won’t be lacking for motivation. ‘I was thinking of doing the last World Cup cluster in Beijing, Tokyo and Singapore but with Commonwealth Games trials in December I’d rather work towards that. Trials are only eight weeks away and Commonwealth Games are in April already so everything is geared towards that.’