By Mark Etheridge
At last year’s FINA World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia, young Ayrton Sweeney was the new kid on the block in the small team of five South African swimmers.
Now he’s got bigger fish to fry and is pulling out all the stops to try and be part of Team South Africa at the Rio Olympics later this year.
Cape Town born but based in KwaZulu-Natal for the last year or so with national coach Graham Hill, Sweeney is upbeat going into this all-important year.
He swam the 200m breaststroke in Russia but since then has shown his more versatile side, like at the African Games in Congo last year where he swam a whole range of races.
His build-up to world championships was hampered by an elbow injury which required surgery at a crucial time but he told Road to Rio 2016 this week that he’s feeling heaps better.
He swam three races at the first leg of the SA Grand Prix Series in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga at the weekend – the 400m Individual Medley and the 200 and 100 breaststroke.
‘Yes, it’s all going well at the start of the year, the elbow is still on good recovery curve and I’m training much more and harder than was the case a few months ago.
‘Nelspruit was good, especially with no real training after us and coming off a bit of a break and also at altitude in Mpumalanga.
‘I did a 4min 28 for the 400 IM which wasn’t that great and I felt the pain. A little while later with no loosen down [there was no loosen-down pool], I did a 2:18 for the 200m breast and then a 1:03 for the 100m breast which I was very happy with.
‘I was also first in all three of my events which is great. Now I’ve font some more hardcore training coming up and then on to the Durban leg of the Grand Prix series in about three weeks. I’m very excited to be putting in all this hard work now. It’s an Olympic year which makes it extra exciting and motivating.’
Sweeney will be swimming all four legs of the SA Grand Prix, with the next three legs all next month, in Durban, Port Elizabeth and finally in Cape Town.
‘I’m obviously still going to be concentrating on my favourite, the 200m breast but also doing the 400m IM. Also, the good thing about this year’s trials is that the 400m IM is on the first day and the 200m breast the penultimate day which is so much better than last year’s World Championships trials when they were both on the same day.’