South Africa have selected a strong team of divers, artistic swimmers, water polo players and open water and pool swimmers to take part in World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan from 14-30 July.
Training through the country’s winter months hasn’t been easy for many of them, particularly the divers. As Zalika Methula explained: “Normally we don’t train in the pool during winter because it’s too cold but because of world champs we’ve been training in the water on the weekends, which is really tough because your body is cold and so your muscles don’t tend to work as much as they would do when it’s warm.
“Regardless of how tough this might be, I know that representing my country at international competitions has been one of my biggest goals and so I have to keep staying positive because in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve been through the toughest of times which is paving the way for greater things.”
Methula will be competing alongside Bailey Heydra in the 3m synchronised event.
Also thrilled to be heading to Fukuoka is Olympian Julia Vincent, who will be competing in the 1m and 3m springboard events.
“I am so excited to be going to Japan this year… especially with this new team that’s going. I’m really excited for the different dynamic to all my other world champs that I’ve been a part of – with these new faces. These kids are the future of the sport in South Africa so I’m very excited to see how they do and hopefully to try and lead them and help them feel comfortable on what can be a very nerve-wracking stage,” said Vincent.
“My training has been going well. It’s exactly where I want it to be right now so I’m hoping that I can get on that stage and showcase what I’ve been working on and just make the country proud.”
The diving competition in Fukuoka runs from 14 to 22 July while the country’s open water swimmers will be competing from 15-20 July.
OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Amica de Jager recently claimed gold in the 5km swim at the African Beach Games in Tunisia and said: “It was absolutely incredible! It shows that all the hard work I've been putting in is paying off. I'm on the right track.”
As for competing at her second world championships, the Tuks swimmer added: “I'm very excited. I think last year was a lot of nerves because everything was new and unexpected… I know a little bit more what to expect now. There are still some nerves (there always are) but I think the excitement to race eclipses this.
“I am hoping to swim my best and improve on last year's results. It would be great if I could stay in contact with the front pack. If you are in that front pack, then anything can happen.”
Heading the men’s team is Connor Buck, who has also been battling chilly temperatures to prepare for the championships.
“We’ve had a bit of trouble with our home pool’s heater not working but I’ve managed to push through and it hasn’t affected my training too much.
“Last year in Budapest I made a lot of errors in both races especially the 10km where I was lying about 12th for half the race but missed my feeds which ended up costing me in the heatwave conditions. This year I’m just hoping for better-executed swims in those races which will hopefully lead to better results. I think I would be pretty satisfied with a top-20 finish and elated if I get a top 10.”
For the country’s artistic swimmers, Fukuoka will be a learning experience with new regulations introduced into the sport.
“The upcoming World Championships in artistic swimming hold special significance, as they will be the first to incorporate the new rules that have dramatically reshaped the sport's rankings this season,” said Olympian Laura Strugnell, who will be competing alongside Jessica Hayes-Hill in the women’s duet.
“As a newly formed duet pair, Jessica and I have dedicated the past few months preparing revamped routines since our national competition in April. While we are thrilled to showcase our skills, we also acknowledge that there will be a learning curve for us as we adapt to the new rules. Our ultimate goal is to qualify for Paris 2024, and we are diligently working towards that milestone, with the opportunity to do so in Doha this coming February.”
The artistic swimming competition runs from 14-22 July, while the water polo teams will be in action from 16-29 July.
Thrilled to be making her debut at senior international level is goalkeeper Olufunke Gando.
“Heading into this tournament, I’m really nervous, purely because this is my very first senior World Aquatics Championships and I’ve only ever dealt with this at a junior level. I’m playing against the best of the best. Just that idea alone scares but also excites me because I am the youngest on the team, being able to play against these other ladies from these other countries at such a young age is so unbelievable for me because I never would have expected it,” said Gando, who has just turned 19.
The South African women’s team have been grouped with Brazil, Greece and Italy for the pool stage.
“This team has such strong players that are insanely talented and insanely motivational and optimistic,” added Gando. “This team really pushes hard and I’m so grateful to have had the honour of playing with them.”
Equally confident in his team is men’s captain Lwazi Madi, whose side have been grouped with Montenegro as well as current world champions Spain and Olympic champions Serbia.
“The team this year is similar to the one that went to Hungary last year for world champs which bodes well for us as the team is balanced with experienced and youthful players. We are hoping to continue our progress as a team as we aim to try and compete against the world’s best. The journey will be difficult, but the team is looking forward to it.
“As a team, we believe we have a lot of potential and some of that potential showed when we played in Germany in May. We have the capability to put together some strong performances in this tournament and hopefully we can continue to progress and grow as a team in preparation for an exciting 2024 year.”
Full SA team at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan:
Aimee Canny, Emma Chelius, Milla Drakopoulos, Trinity Hearne, Michael Houlie, Clayton Jimmie, Rebecca Meder, Righardt Muller, Tatjana Schoenmaker, Roland Schoeman, Lara van Niekerk
OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Joshua Ashley, Kate Beavon, Connor Buck, Matthew Caldwell, Amica de Jager, Tory Earle
Bailey Heydra, Zalika Methula, Stefan Steenkamp, Julia Vincent
Jessica Hayes Hill, Skye Macdonald, Siphokazi Myende, Laura Strugnell
WOMEN WATER POLO
Olufunke Gando, Shakira January, Nicola MacLeod, Meghan Maartens, Tumi Macdonell, Chloe Meecham, Boati Motau, Hannah Muller, Megan Sileno, Kelsey Thomson, Anna Thornton-Dibb, Ruby Versfeld, Esihle Zondo
MEN WATER POLO
Ignardus Badenhorst, Manqoba Bungane, Dylan Cronje, Joshua Faber, Todd Howard, Cameron Laurenson, Lwazi Madi, Gareth May, Chad Roman, Ross Stone, Jonathan Swanepoel, Dane Tucker, Sven van Zyl, Niall Wheeler