By Mark Etheridge
in Luanda, Angola
It was a golden avalanche of medals for Team South Africa at the Alvalade Pool here on Thursday as once again the team cleaned up in the aquatics code.
After two days of swimming action the team now have racked up 30 of a possible 31 medals.
There were another 14 for the team in Thursday’s eight events. Of those eight were gold, five silver and one bronze.
It was Timothy Sates who got the ball rolling in the men’s 200-metre freestyle, the blonde Durbanite winning in 1min 54.34sec from countryman Kyle van Niekerk (1:55.04).
Next up, on what was going to be another busy night for the Tukkies swimmer, was Nathania van Niekerk.
She won the 100m freestyle in 58.08 with Johannesburg’s Kate Beavon bagging bronze in 59.24 with Botswana’s Naomi Ruele sandwiched in-between for silver.
In the men’s 50m butterfly Josh Walters won in 25.83 from teammate Kyle van Niekerk (26.30). Said the winner: ‘I had a bit of a slow start but by 25m I was into my stroke and from then on I had good rhythm.
‘In the end I pulled through nicely. I would have liked a personal best, which I think is around 25.58 but this time is still a season’s best, said the former Clifton College student who is about to head off to study at the the California Baptist University in Riverside, United States.
Cape Town’s Hanim Abrahams was then in action over the 50m breaststroke and beat her teammate Jessica Whelan to the wall in 33.06, with the latter touching in 34.34.
It was Abrahams’ third race of the Games. ‘I focused very hard on working with the water in this race,’ said the Herschelle student.
‘I tend to over accelerate and my underwater work isn’t my strong point so I concentrated on that and the pushed hard in the last 25m. I was hoping for a 32sec today.’
Abrahams will have plenty of time to iron out any perceived faults as she still has six races left here at the Games.
In the men’s 100m breaststroke it was Cape Town’s Michael Houlie (main picture) who prevailed in 1:03.50 from teammate Duncan Rudolph (1:03.94). If Abrahams had any doubts over her underwater work there were no such worries for Rudolph as he had a lightning quick turn to get within touching distance of Houlie before the latter pulled away.
In the pre-race routine, Houlie was full of gestures on pool deck and on the start blocks. Explained the Capetonian, who trains with Abrahams: ‘I just love expressing myself. I love football [he supports English Premier League club Chelsea] but I’ve taken two signature expressions from Antoine Griezmann and Sergio Ramos!
‘I’m happy with my swim today, in fact it was one of my best,’ he grinned. ‘I swam a 1:04.15 in the heats this morning and it’s just nice to constantly try to improve.’
Next year he’ll be back at school at Bishops College in Cape Town.
Van Niekerk was back in action in the 100m backstroke where she triumphed in 1:04.09 from Rio Olympian Ruele (1:04.95).
The other South African in action in this event, Khwezi Duma, had a superb start but faded to fourth place. She was also at the last version of these Games in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe two years ago.
Penultimate race of the night was the men’s 200m butterfly where Brendan Levy and Ude Fuchs went head to head before the former won in 2:03.94 with Fuchs hard on this heels.
The evening wrapped up with an exciting 100m mixed freestyle relay. The coaching team opted to go with all-male power for the first two legs in the form of Kyle van Niekerk and Keanu Silent, followed by Beavon and Nathania van Niekerk.
The two pulled out a lead of 10 seconds and Beavon and Van Niekerk did well to keep the field at bay over the last two legs.
Winning time was 3:47.00… 10.23sec ahead of Zimbabwe.
Wrapping up the evening, coach Theo Verster was more than satisfied: ‘Actually I’m super happy. We’re halfway through competition and the team spirit is hugely positive.
‘It’s so important at exhibition galas like this and at this team’s age to learn all about team swimming. These guys are the future of the sport and the earlier they learn to gel as a team and work together the better.’
As for the performances of the day and for the girls he had no doubt: ‘Definitely Nathania in the 100 backstroke. ‘For her to win that was so special and also to get a full house of golds on the night.’
For the boys he took a while long before declaring: ‘I think Mikey Houlie. For his age he’s a huge talent and he’s going to mature into a great breaststroker. He could very well be our next Cameron van der Burgh.’
In netball action, it was the Jenny van Dyk-coached South Africans who beat Namibia55-14 in their final pool game. They’ll now take on Botswana in Friday’s final and after beating their northern neighbours on Wednesday, will be in buoyant mood.
Pictures of Houlie, Van Niekerk and Abrhams courtesy of Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images