Epic comeback on the cards as swimmers converge on Gqeberha

aquatics10 April 2023 12:20| © SuperSport
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Roland Schoeman © Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA

Three-time Olympic medallist Roland Schoeman’s name is among those on the start lists for the SA National Championships in Gqeberha this week – the 42-year-old sprinter looking to take on the young guns at the 12-16 April meet.

Schoeman has not competed at the national event since 2016, but has decided to give it another go in the 50 and 100m freestyle and the 50m butterfly. Also considered one of the veterans, but 11 years Schoeman’s junior is Chad le Clos, who has been enjoying a recent resurgence of his own – claiming double gold at last year’s World Short Course Championships in Melbourne.

Turning 31 on the opening day of the competition, Le Clos is planning on swimming the 100 and 200m butterfly as well as the 100m freestyle, with an eye on qualifying for the World Swimming Championships later this year in Fukuoka, Japan.

“The 100 free is a new event which I’ve been working quite hard on recently but understanding that it’s still a process,” said Le Clos, who arrived in the country from his base in Germany last week.

“I think it’s going to be quite exciting. It’s great that Roland’s back, it’s really amazing that he’s still swimming at his age and I think he’s going to be good.

“I’m feeling good, really confident, definitely different to the last two years that I’ve been swimming… Hopefully we have some good results. I’m just happy to be here in a good head space, good body – and we’ll see how we go,” added the 2012 Olympic champion.

Meanwhile the two teenagers who took last year’s Commonwealth Games by storm and were recently named Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year at the SA Sports Awards, Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetzé, will also be competing in Gqeberha this week.

Van Niekerk made a splash in 2022 by beating Olympic gold and silver medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker in the 100m breaststroke at both the National Championships and the Commonwealth Games and will once again come up against her fellow Pretoria superstar in Gqeberha. Schoenmaker’s main event is the 200m breaststroke, however, where her main rival will be training partner Kaylene Corbett.

“Obviously being SA champion would be lovely, but I am focusing on my race strategy and just executing it to the best of my ability,” said Van Niekerk.

“I have been very happy with my training and preparation. Swimming an Olympic qualifying time in Durban at the Grand Prix really showed me that I am on track.

“I think my season last year has given me a lot of trust in my process and showed me that even if preparation is not perfect, I can still swim fast and race well,” added the 19-year-old, who will be competing in the 50 and 100m breaststroke.

Taking on a busy programme of six events is Coetzé, who will be in action in the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke, 50 and 100 freestyle and the 50 butterfly.

“I’m feeling good and excited to go and race,” he said. “With the international success in the last year, I wouldn’t say it feels different going into this year. I just think confidence definitely grew. I’m feeling way more confident and excited going into this year.

“I’m just hoping to swim PBs. That’s always what I’m hoping for,” added the 18-year-old, who claimed Commonwealth Games gold, silver and bronze last year.

Fellow teenager Matt Sates will be focused mainly on the 200 and 400m freestyle and the 200 and 400m individual medley. Sates claimed gold and bronze at last year’s World Short Course Championships.

“Every year of experience always helps you to feel more confident and know what you can get out your body,” he said. “Going into this year I am much clearer on what works and doesn't work for me.

“It's always great to win national titles, so of course I will be going for gold. But I really just want to put in some solid swims and times in preparation for the international season ahead.”

2018 Youth Olympic champion Michael Houlie is also hoping for a strong showing in Gqeberha in the 50 and 100m breaststroke after wrapping up his collegiate career with the University of Tennessee in the USA.

“I just had my last meet at the NCAA Championships and that went really well for the team and for me individually. I got a top-eight finish, so I’m really just trying to carry all the positives from that meet to this competition,” he said.

“It’s been a year since I’ve been home so I’m just feeling excited and really happy and blessed. I feel grateful that I get to compete on home soil again and see my family so this is the energy and the mindset I have going into this next meet… the plan is what it always is – to swim fast.”

Swimming action at the Newton Park Swimming Pool in Gqeberha will get under way with the heats on Wednesday morning and will run until Sunday, 16 April.