Young guns target podium places in preparation for Paris

A team of 13 South African swimmers leave tonight for the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, looking for their final taste of major international competition before the Olympic Games... Read more
Young guns target podium places in preparation for Paris

A team of 13 South African swimmers leave tonight for the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, looking for their final taste of major international competition before the Olympic Games later this year.

Veteran Chad le Clos will compete at his eighth long course World Championships event in Doha, having collected seven medals at the event during his storied career, while leading the charge among the younger contingent will be two Commonwealth Games champions in Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetzé as well as world short course champion Matt Sates.

Le Clos has been entered into the 50, 100 and 200m butterfly and could also add the 100m freestyle to his events, while Van Niekerk will contest both the 50 and 100m breaststroke.

“I have been really happy with the training block over the past few months. I have stayed healthy which has been a real win for me, and so I am excited to see how the preparation translates into racing,” said Van Niekerk, who was South Africa’s only medallist at the 2022 World Championships where she collected bronze in the 50m breaststroke.

A World Championships in February of an Olympic year is unusual, with World Aquatics still catching up on championships that were missed during the Covid pandemic, but this hasn’t fazed Van Niekerk.

“Although this is very early in the season, we have known about it for a while and so started making adjustments after worlds last year already.

“I love racing and both my coach and I thought it would be great preparation for Paris, and it will help us see what needs to be tweaked leading up to the Games,” added the 20-year-old.

“Of course, I would love a podium finish this time, but the field is really strong so I am just focusing on my own times and seeing if I can lower my own PBs.”

Fellow Pretoria swimmer Coetzé will compete in the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke. The now-19-year-old famously qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games when he was just 16 and has his sights set on his second Games in Paris later this year. He also confirmed that several adjustments had to be made to his training programme to be able to compete at top level in February.

“It is strange, especially close to the Olympics,” he said. “We definitely had to tweak training and take out a lot of rest over the holiday period.

“But training has been good. I had the flu for a week, but it happens and you have to take it in your stride.

“I saw this as a great opportunity to race at the highest level and make some tweaks before the Olympics. I am aiming to be faster than I was in the past.

“⁠I don’t really think about the swimmers who I compete against. I could be racing age group swimmers at worlds but it’s still worlds and I will still try my best to get on the podium,” added Coetzé, whose good friend Sates has been entered in the 200 and 400m freestyle, 100 and 200m butterfly and 200 and 400m individual medley.

“I will be concentrating on my IMs and fly,” said Sates. “My aim from worlds is to do the best that I can and to make SA proud.”

Also among those flying the flag for South Africa in Doha will be Commonwealth Games silver medallist Erin Gallagher, who has been entered in the 50 and 100m freestyle and 50 and 100m butterfly and Olympic semi-finalist Emma Chelius, who will compete in the 50m freestyle.

Swimming action begins with the morning heats on 11 February and will run until 18 February.

Full South African swimming team competing at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships: Emma Chelius, Pieter Coetzé, Duné Coetzee, Milla Drakopoulos, Erin Gallagher, Stephanie Houtman, Clayton Jimmie, Tayla Jonker, Chad le Clos, Hannah Pearse, Matthew Randle, Matthew Sates, Lara van Niekerk

Photo: World Aquatics

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