Schoenmaker could make sports history at the Paris Olympics

aquatics31 October 2023 12:35

Tatjana Schoenmaker has a proven record of achieving what she sets out to do, and that is winning gold medals at major international swim events.

But there is still one challenge that awaits the Tuks Bestmed Sports Woman of the Year in 2024, and it is a tough one. In the history of South African sports, only one athlete has been able to do so. That is to win a gold medal in the same event at two consecutive Olympic Games.

Caster Semenya won the women's 800-metre race at the 2012 London Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics. To put things in perspective, Semenya was second in 2012. The race was won by Russia's Mariya Savinova, but in 2015, she was stripped of the gold medal for doping violations. Semenya was declared the winner.

So Schoenmaker's challenge next year in Paris will be officially becoming the first South African athlete to win the same event twice at the Games.

She won gold in the 200m breaststroke during the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. Her winning time of 2:18.95 was a world record.

But Rocco Meiring, Schoenmaker's coach, is careful about getting ahead of themselves. He firmly believes that athletes are only as good as their last race.

According to him, Schoenmaker's golden heroics at the 2021 Olympics and this year's World Champs count for nothing.

"It has been a while since the rivalry in the women's 100 and 200 metres breaststroke had been this intense. Only two swimmers who swam in the 2021 Games 200m-breaststroke final were in action this July in the same final during the World Champs in Japan. It was Tatjana and Lilly King (USA).

"It should also be noted that in April, Russia's Evgenia Chikunova set a new world record for swimming 2:17.55. She will be competing in Paris. Tatjana will probably not get an opportunity to compete against her before the Games.

Meiring is not sure, but 2024 might be the first time that swimmers get to compete at a World Champs and the Olympic Games in the same year.

The World Champs is in February in Doha, while the Games start at the end of July.

"I think it will be tough for any swimmer to win gold at both events. I still have to speak to the swimmers I coach, but if they choose to compete in both events, they have to realise we are not going to temper down for Worlds. Their focus should be to be at their best in Paris.

"For most countries, Worlds is the last opportunity to qualify swimmers and relay teams for the Paris Games."

The one thing that excites Meiring is that five female swimmers have already qualified to compete at the Paris Games, and there are three more who are on the verge of qualifying.

"Remember a few years back, none of South Africa's female swimmers were able to qualify at the Olympics. Credit should go to our coaches. They stepped up and proved that you can train in South Africa and be good enough to compete against the best in the world."

The female swimmers who had qualified for the Paris Games are Schoenmaker, Kaylene Corbett, Erin Gallagher, Lara van Niekerk and Rebecca Meder.

Dune Coetzee, Aimee Canny and Emma Chelius are the three who can still qualify.