How often over the years have we seen this movie? Time after time, South Africa’s swimmers rise to the occasion and they did so on another profitable night in Casablanca, picking up 13 medals to add to the 11 won on the opening night, writes GARY LEMKE.
Halfway through the swimming competition South Africa have won 24 medals in the pool – 11 of them gold. That has taken the country’s medals tally to 27, which includes judo’s two silvers and cycling’s one gold to date. No doubt cycling will add to their tally, and we still have to factor in the impact of track and field athletics, which starts the day after the swimmers head home.
Performance of the night? Not in doubt. Probably also the upset of the evening, with 23-year-old Alaric Basson taking the gold medal in the men’s 100m breaststroke, in a time of 1min 00.96sec, leaving 50m African Games champion and favourite Michael Houlie to settle with the bronze medals.
One of a set of identical twins – brother Alard was born three minutes later – the Port Elizabeth swimmer clocked a lifetime best to claim his gold medal. ‘Totally unexpected … I’m very, very happy,’ he said after the medal ceremony. ‘Did I say I’m very happy?’
It was a night in the pool when Team SA’s swimmers won another 13 medals, to add to their 12 of the previous night. It helped send SA up to second on the overall medals table with 12 golds, nine silvers and six bronzes, with Egypt leading the table.
There is no Tatjana Schoenmaker at these Games, but South Africa’s reputation for churning out classy breaststrokers continues as Kaylene Corbett claimed the 100m women’s gold to make it a breaststroke double on the night for Team SA, while Samantha Rundle was imperious in winning the women’s 400m IM, leading from start to finish to take gold in 4:55.31. Then the evening was closed off by a pair of gold in the relays, the mixed 4×100 medley relay and the women’s 200m freestyle.
The medley relay produced a Games-record 3:50.76, with Martin Binedell, Houlie, Erin Gallagher and Emma Chelius doing the job.
But, back to the man of the moment, the younger Basson twin by three minutes. ‘I’m so happy my coach [Mark Edge] is here with us tonight, it’s a great feeling, if so very unexpected. We stay in Uitenhage, which is about 45 minutes outside Port Elizabeth, but we travel there every day to train.
‘This is not the biggest event I’ve been to, because I’ve also swum in the World University Games and World Fina Champs, but I didn’t perform well in them.
‘Here I’ve had to adapt to the different food and accommodation, but to swim that time [60.96] against all odds is great. It’s my best time ever. I tried to focus during the first 50 metres and then come back hard and stay relaxed, keeping a bit of gas in the tank to come back hard in the last 50. To be honest, I knew when I touched the wall at 50 that I had it [the win]. I didn’t see the guy next to me and I felt comfortable.’
If Basson’s was the upset of the night, Gallagher’s silver medal in the women’s 50m butterfly might just have been the performance of the night. But, despite swimming a new SA record, Erin Gallagher had to settle for the silver medal in 26.24 with Emma Chelius taking bronze in 27.40. Gallagher has always been a prodigious talent, tipped years ago for the top. She’s had her ups and downs which have been well documented, but, hey, she’s still only 20. There’s plenty to come from one of South Africa’s brightest talents.