Another 10 Commonwealth Games qualifying times were set as the KZN Aquatics Premier Championships powered past the halfway mark in Durban on Tuesday.
That brings to 34 the number of times set since the championships began on Saturday.
For a second consecutive day it was the women who led the way, with 18-year-old Nathania van Niekerk bagging her first Commonwealth Games qualification time in the 200-metre backstroke.
The Pretoria swimmer touched the wall in a golden 2min 14.75sec, comfortably inside the 2:16.13 requirement, while silver and bronze medals went to Samantha Randle in 2:16.50 and Kiara Noades in 2:20.75.
‘I’m very happy with my qualification time,’ said Van Niekerk (pictured above), who was SA’s leading swimmer at the AUSC Region 5 Games in Angola this time last year. ‘To be able to qualify in the 200m backstroke, which has always been my main event, is really satisfying.
‘My time in the Olympic Trials was much faster than this but I’ve only been training backstroke again for eight months and to be able to get down under a qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games is really exciting. Putting all my effort back into it, I’m sure I will be able to get to that time again in the near future,’ said Van Niekerk.
The women continued to dominate the pool as Erin Gallagher posted her third Commonwealth Games qualification time and Emma Chelius her second in the 100m freestyle.
Gallagher sped to the finish line in a new KZN record time of 54.93, beating her own 2015 record of 55.61, while Chelius claimed the silver in 56.53. The required Commonwealth time was 56.82.
Nineteen-year-old Gallagher is having a dream birthday week after the home town swimmer qualified for the 100m butterfly and 50m freestyle earlier in the championships.
But her efforts are coming at a painful price, she told Team SA’s Mark Etheridge. ‘Although I’m very, very happy with my time I’ve never felt so sore in a race before!
‘I couldn’t feel my legs at all and every time someone hugged me and congratulated me I thought I was going to collapse and they just had to hold me up.
‘I just wanted that 54 so badly and I knew it was going to hurt and I had to just push through the pain if I wanted it. I did want to go a little bit faster but I can hardly be upset with a PB and a qualifying time.’
Until Tuesday night her personal best for the 100m free was 55.43 and she’s sure there’s more to come. ‘To swim a PB when I wasn’t feeling amazing in the water only makes me excited for when I DO feel amazing.
‘Now I’ve just got the one race left, the 50m backstroke on Wednesday.’
As for silver medallist Chelius there was more than some sense of relief for the Stellenbosch based swimmer/student.
‘It’s a great finish to a huge year,’ she told Team SA. ‘It’s been a stressful few months with my final set of exams for my BCom and I recently had my graduation, so coming into the competition I just wanted to do my best.
‘This was my first major meet since World Student Games [in Taiwan] so I was a bit nervous but I loved every minute of the competition!’
She was also quick to pay tribute to the people behind her success. ‘Its been a team effort with my incredible coach Karin Hugo and my supportive training partners who have consolidated a lot of hard work this year, but there is definitely a lot to improve on going into Commonwealth Games next year, which is exciting.
‘It was a huge relief to qualify in both the 50m freestyle and the 100m freestyle, they are both such competitive events. In my 100 free I tried to go out a bit faster than usual and then just hold on until the end.
‘It was a last burst of effort for the year and ended in a personal best time and tears of happiness and relief.’
She joined her fellow swimmers in celebrating girl power at these championships. ‘I’m so ecstatic to see the amazing swimming talent of our SA ladies coming to the fore and I think we are definitely on the rise.’
Pretoria’s Tatjana Schoenmaker and Port Elizabeth’s Kaylene Corbett raced to their second Commonwealth Games qualification times in the 100m breaststroke in 1:07.89 and 1:09.57, respectively, while the bronze went to Hanim Abrahams in 1:10.73.
The skill and talent of Kate Beavon (17) and Kristin Bellingan (19) were on display for all to see in the 800m freestyle as they added their names to the list of Games qualification times. Beavon finished in 8:49.16 and Bellingan was a close second in 8:49.51, the bronze medal went to up and coming Cape Town talent Abi Meder in 9:01.52.
Beavon was part of the SA team at Junior Worlds in the United States earlier this year and the Johannesburg swimmer was overjoyed to make her mark in Durban.
‘I didn’t expect to do so well because I was quite ill for a couple of months after returning from Junior Worlds. I did manage to get some good training in through November and it seems to have paid off,’ she told Team SA.
‘I’ve always wanted to represent South Africa at a major multi-sport games and obviously the Olympics is my dream. The Commonwealth Games would also be a great way to gain experience and hopefully I would be able to use it as a stepping stone to the Olympics.
‘It was amazing to be able to have such a close race over this distance. I really think that having Kristen right on my shoulder for the whole race brought out the best in both of us.
‘It’s the kind of race that I would have loved to watch from the stands. I hope that it shows how exciting middle and long distance races can be. Also, I think the experience I got from going to World Champs in Budapest helped me to respond to the challenge and so I’m very grateful for that opportunity.’
But it certainly wasn’t only the women in the spotlight as three Commonwealth Games qualification times were added to the list in the 100m butterfly final with Chad le Clos coming out tops in 52.43, followed by Ryan Coetzee in 52.92 and Daniel Ronaldson in 53.71, all dipping under the required 54.12.
A two-time Commonwealth Games team member, Cameron van der Burgh was in record-breaking form in the 50m breaststroke, clocking a new KZN record time of 27.28, to fellow Olympian Brad Tandy’s 28.00 from earlier in the year. Cape Town’s Michael Houlie claimed the silver in 28.54 and Jared Pike the bronze in 28.74.
Luca Holtzhausen (13) continued to impress in the age group events, adding two more gold medals to his tally both in new KZN record times. In the 50m breaststroke, Holtzhausen won in 31.48, to Gareth Kemp’s 2013 time of 31.58, while in the 100m butterfly, he clocked 58.86 to break his own record from earlier in the year.
Matthew Sates (14) also walked away with two gold medals in the 50m breaststroke (31.24) and the 100m butterfly (57.45), while Connor Rainders (11) won his respective breaststroke event in 40.18 and Ricky Lottering (11) the butterfly in 1:11.57.
In the 200m backstroke age group race, the gold medals went to Kirsten Cottrell (11) in 2:52.50, Morgan Ridderhof (13) in 2:30.39 and Olivia Tully (15) in 2:24.60, while the winners in the 100m breaststroke went to Emily Martens (10) in 1:26.85, Emma Kuhn (12) in 1:15.58 and Paige Brombacher (14) in a new KZN record time of 1:11.52.
Milla Drakopoulos (11), Ambrin Pienaar (13) and Kirsten de Goede (14) concluded the age group events for the evening, winning the gold medals in 1:08.19, 1:02.58 and 58.49, respectively.
Swimming continues on Wednesday with morning heats and then finals starting at 5pm.
The final Commonwealth Games team will be selected and announced by SASCOC in accordance with the SASCOC selection policy.
In the picture, Le Clos and Coetzee celebrate with local fans at the Kings Park Aquatic Centre. Picture of Van Niekerk courtesy of Steve Haag/www.stevehaagsports.com
Qualifying Times after day four
· Calvyn Justus – 100m backstroke (55.57)
· Calvyn Justus – 100m freestyle (50.35)
· Ayrton Sweeney – 200m breaststroke (2:11.64)
· Erin Gallagher – 100m butterfly (58.93)
· Erin Gallagher – 50m freestyle (25.35)
· Erin Gallagher – 100m freestyle (54.93)
· Brent Szurdoki – 400m freestyle (3:53.24)
· Cameron van der Burgh – 100m breaststroke (59.89)
· Michael Houlie – 100m breaststroke (1:01.98)]
· Mariella Venter – 100m backstroke (1:02.55)
· Chad le Clos – 200m freestyle (1:48.28)
· Chad le Clos – 200m butterfly (1:58.01)
· Chad le Clos – 100m freestyle (49.74)
· Chad le Clos – 100m butterfly (52.43)
· Jarryd Baxter – 200m freestyle (1:50.79)
· Emma Chelius – 50m freestyle (25.66)
· Emma Chelius – 100m freestyle (56.53)
· Olivia Nel – 50m freestyle (26.06)
· Dune Coetzee – 200m freestyle (2:02.68)
· Ayrton Sweeney – 400m individual medley (4:16.53)
· Luan Grobbelaar – 400m individual medley (4:22.58)
· Tatjana Schoenmaker – 200m breaststroke (2:26.46)
· Tatjana Schoenmaker – 100m breaststroke (1:07.89
· Kaylene Corbett – 200m breaststroke (2:29.18)
· Kaylene Corbett – 100m breaststroke (1:09.57)
· Emily Visagie – 200m breaststroke (2:29.46)
· Eben Vorster – 200m butterfly (1:59.88)
· Marlies Ross – 200m individual medley (2:17.33)
· Leith Shankland – 100m freestyle (50.51)
· Nathania van Niekerk – 200m backstroke (2:14.75)
· Ryan Coetzee – 100m butterfly (52.92)
· Daniel Ronaldson – 100m butterfly (53.71)
· Kate Beavon – 800m freestyle (8:49.16)
· Kristin Bellingan – 800m freestyle (8:49.51)