SA’s Van Niekerk just misses out on world champs medal

Lara van Niekerk missed out on earning a medal at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan by just five hundredths of a second on Sunday as the swimming... Read more
SA’s Van Niekerk just misses out on world champs medal

Lara van Niekerk missed out on earning a medal at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan by just five hundredths of a second on Sunday as the swimming action came to an end.

The 20-year-old suffered another bad start in her 50m breaststroke final, the slowest of the field, and was playing catch-up for the entire length of the pool.

She did well to claw her way back into contention but eventually had to settle for fourth spot after finishing in a time of 30.09 seconds.

Out in front, Rūta Meilutytė stormed to a new world record of 29.16 seconds, adding the 50m title to the 100m breaststroke gold she won earlier in the week. The Lithuanian had given a hint of things to come when she equalled the world record in her semifinal on Saturday.

American Lilly King took the silver in a time of 29.94 and Italy’s former world record holder Benedetta Pilato the bronze in 30.04.

Speaking after the final, Van Niekerk’s coach Eugene da Ponte said: “The race didn’t quite go as planned. Again the start was a bit of an issue but the swimming was actually really good. The closing speed in the last 25m was top class but she just ran out of space.

“Still, overall, fourth place in the world – we can’t complain too much. I think it was a good race and a good comeback from the big problem with the start in the heats and I think that maybe would have been playing on her mind a little bit still as well,” he added.

“So overall, we’re not too upset with the result. Still fourth in the world and we’re looking forward to Paris next year now.”

Van Niekerk was South Africa’s only medallist at last year’s World Championships in Budapest after claiming bronze in the 50m breaststroke. On that occasion, she swam 29.77 seconds in the heats and 29.90 in the final before heading to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where she claimed double gold – in the 50 and 100m breaststroke.

Back in Fukuoka, earlier in the day, Rebecca Meder was the only other South African swimmer in action. Having set a new South African record in the 200m individual medley at the start of the championships, the 20-year-old swam a new personal best time of 4:45.68 in the 400m individual medley to finish 21st overall.

Photo: World Aquatics

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