By Mark Etheridge
in Cali, Colombia
Lifesaver Paul van Achterbergh came within 0.16 seconds of securing Team South Africa’s first medal at the World Games here on Friday night.
Lifesaving and waterskiing were the first two codes with South African representation at these games after Thursday night’s opening ceremony in front of 40,000 people at the city’s main stadium.
Van Achterbergh was the pick of the lifesavers after the first of two days action in this code and he ended fourth in the men’s 200-metre obstacle race.
He clocked 1min 58.50sec with the third-placed swimmer, France’s Thomas Vilaceca, agonisingly just out of reach ahead of him in 1:58.34.
He did, at least, have the consolation of having set a new South African record in this event.
The 18-year-old was also in action in the final event of the evening, the 200m super lifesaver where he ended seventh in 2:21:37.
Other lifesaving in action saw Megan Stephens and Carmell Billson ending sixth (2:16:.30 and 2.17.88) respectively in the first race of the evening, the womens’ 200m obstacle event.
The men’s 4x50m obstacle relay saw Team SA (Van Achterbergh, Daniel Malan, Barjo van Niekerk and Armand Marais) end sixth in 1:44.10 as Germany sent a new world record of 1:38.25.
The other South African race saw Armand Marais end fifth in the 100m mannikin with fins event in 50:13 as Italy’s Francisco Bonanni set a World Games record of 47.59.
Marais’ main medal chance will come in the 50m mannikin without fins event on Saturday.
There was early honour for South Africa as Van Niekerk read out the Athletes’ Oath in the traditional opening ceremony for the lifesaving code.
Team SA lifesaving manager Winston Meyer summed up the first day: “I think the morning went very well. Paul did very well to qualify as he did and I think the pressure just got to him a bit. He’s just a youngster but I firmly believe that he will grow into one of the world’s best in his event.
“We never expected miracles here as this is a young team. But we have made a good few finals and we want to end the two days of competition in the top five of the 10 teams that are competing here.”