Schoenmaker and Van Niekerk lead SA medal charge at World Aquatics Championships

South Africa’s breaststroke stars are once again expected to make a splash when the swimming competition at the World Aquatics Championships gets under way on 23 July. Tatjana Schoenmaker... Read more
Schoenmaker and Van Niekerk lead SA medal charge at World Aquatics Championships

South Africa’s breaststroke stars are once again expected to make a splash when the swimming competition at the World Aquatics Championships gets under way on 23 July. Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lara van Niekerk lead the team of SA swimmers competing in Fukuoka, Japan.

Schoenmaker is returning to the country where she claimed Olympic gold and silver in the 200m and 100m breaststroke back in 2021, and will be looking to make a statement ahead of next year’s Games in Paris.

“Obviously it’s going to be a bit different because it’s not Tokyo but I love Japan and I’m so excited that we maybe, hopefully get to explore a little in terms of not being completely confined to a village so that’s quite exciting,” said the 26-year-old.

“It’s definitely a stepping stone and a great opportunity to race some of the girls who will definitely be racing in Paris so these types of championships are always major,” she added.

“I think it’s the biggest championships for swimming as a sport so it’s a big deal, but whatever happens there is not the result of what’s going to happen in Paris, so I don’t think we put too much pressure on it. It’s just to get that racing done.”

Schoenmaker will be returning to the World Championships for the first time since 2019 when she claimed a breakthrough silver medal in the 200m breaststroke.

“It’s almost weird to say it’s only my second one [World Championships] now but it’s been such an incredible journey.

“I’m excited to get some international racing in. I haven’t raced some of these girls since the Olympics and obviously there are some new faces… so I’m excited to get racing again and just get into that zone for the build-up to the Olympics.”

Also eager to put herself to the test once again is fellow breaststroker, Van Niekerk, who claimed South Africa’s only medal at the last World Championships in Budapest last year, taking bronze in the 50m breaststroke. She then went on to bag double gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“I think for any swimmer there is always some pressure they put on themselves to perform. But I think last year’s results just show me what is possible and that makes me more excited to race the best again,” she said.

The 20-year-old is now well-versed in competing at international level.

“There are always nerves,” she admitted. “But experience definitely helps you to get more used to racing at the level consistently. And it is great to have made some friends with the ladies I race and that makes it much more fun.”

As for the prospect of competing at her first Olympics in Paris next year, the African 50m breaststroke record holder added: “This is a stepping stone to Paris, and I think it will give me and my coach a good idea of what needs to be tweaked in the lead-up to Paris. But I am also not thinking too far ahead, I am just focused on giving of my best in Japan and then I will begin focusing on next year.”

Another of South Africa’s star swimmers, Chad le Clos, was set to compete at his eighth long course World Championships but has decided to withdraw from the competition after missing five weeks of training due to illness.

Meanwhile, 22 years after claiming a shared bronze medal in the 50m freestyle in the same Japanese city (his first world championship medal), 43-year-old Roland Schoeman will once again be representing the country in the sprint events.

The veteran swimmer’s last World Championships with the South African team was 10 years ago in Barcelona, but Schoeman has set his sights on a sensational comeback on the world stage. He is scheduled to compete in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly in Fukuoka.

“There are very few greater feelings in the world to know I’ll be representing South Africa at the world champs in Fukuoka, especially after the duration that I have not been on the national team,” said Schoeman. “What makes it all the more special is the fond memories I have of Fukuoka 22 years ago.”

Schoeman said his training since the SA National Championships in Gqeberha this April has been focused on improving his speed and power.

“I have some goals in mind that are quite lofty. As for how much quicker [I can go], I wish there was a way in swimming to tell exactly how much faster we can be. A lot will depend on… what happens on the day.”

The swimming competition at the World Aquatics Championships runs from 23-30 July.

South African swimming team in Fukuoka: Aimee Canny, Emma Chelius, Milla Drakopoulos, Trinity Hearne, Michael Houlie, Clayton Jimmie, Rebecca Meder, Righardt Muller, Roland Schoeman, Tatjana Schoenmaker, Lara van Niekerk.

Photo: Anton Geyser

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