By Mark Etheridge
in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
The swimming team bids farewell to Bulawayo on Sunday, content in the knowledge that they won the bulk of Team South Africa’s medals at the African Union Region 5 Games here.
Down the years swimming has been the ‘go-to’ code for SA at so many events and this was no exception.
The final day’s competition at the Bulawayo City Pool saw the squad winning another 15 medals. Consider that the previous three days had seen them netting 15, 12 and 15 respectively and it was a huge haul for the team.
The total tally rounded out at 57 medals – 32 gold, 17 silver and eight bronze, streets ahead of second placed swimming nation Namibia with 19 medals for these Under-20 Games.
Saturday saw SA miss out on only one of nine gold medals up for grabs, and that medal went to Namibia’s Zanré Oberholzer in the 200m backstroke.
Otherwise it was business as usual as the team won eight golds, five silvers and two bronzes on the night. Oh, and let it be noted that another five Games records were also swallowed up by the well-oiled SA swimming machine.
One of the swimming stories of the Games came courtesy of Mark Hunter.
Early in the Games he was pulled out of the competition after palpitations and a racing heartbeat. But after careful observation by medical experts he was allowed to race on Saturday.
Swimming the 200m breaststroke heats in the morning he again experienced problems. ‘The last 25 metres of my heats everything in front of me just went white and I just had to concentrate on swimming straight and touching the wall,’ Hunter told Road to Rio 2016.
Still, his 2min 21.97sec saw him fastest into the evening final.
And this time everything that he touched turned to gold as he bettered his morning time to win in 2:20.86.
‘Tonight I went out a bit slower, 1:09 to this morning’s 1:09 and it seemed to help. It still wasn’t perfect but much better,’ said the Wayne Riddin-trained Pietermaritzburg athlete who will have a full check-up once he gets back to home territory.
Hunter, in all likelihood, would have added even more to the medal tally as he was entered in seven individual events although he only swam one final.
Going forward and it certainly seemed that at least three swimmers seem to have what it takes to reach the next level, in the shape of Zane Waddell, Martin Binedell and Rita Naude, who won the bulk of SA’s medals. Most of the squad now head home to prepare for the various provincial championships ahead of the New Year break.
Apart from the afternoon track and field results which were still to come in, South Africa were only involved in basketball action where both the men’s and women’s sides went down to Zimbabwe in bronze medal match play-offs.
The men lost 60-72 and the women 39-52.
Said women’s coach Suzan Maleho: ‘Areas to be improved on are stamina, speed and we must capitalise on their height and perhaps have a two-year programme that prepares the players in time to be ready for the next Games in 2016.’
As for the men, coach Masibulele Ntlali said: ‘We started slow in the first two quarters and only picked up in the the third quarter. Overall there was some bad officiating from the referee who was not fair and consistent during the match.
‘Main lesson learnt is that we have to prepare ourselves thoroughty and understand that other African nations are very good at their game. We should be able to compete against the stiff competition in the content.’
The Games officially come to an end on Sunday with the closing ceremony at Barbourfields, although most of the SA team have headed home after completion of their events.