Producing a spectacular career breakthrough, Zane Waddell closed the SA team’s campaign with a bang on Sunday, stunning the global elite to win gold on the final day of the World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju.
Having progressed as the fifth fastest qualifier from the men’s 50m backstroke semifinals the day before, Waddell wasn’t given much hope ahead of the final.
Stealing the show, however, he touched the wall in 24.43 seconds, edging out Russian silver medallist Evgeny Rylov by 0.06 in a thrilling battle.
The 21-year-old prospect was just 0.09 outside the South African record set by Gerhard Zandberg in 2009.
While the 50m backstroke was not on the programme at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, national coach Graham Hill was delighted that 21-year-old Waddell had displayed his potential at the highest level.
Hill was also pleased with Tatjana Schoenmaker’s silver medal in the women’s 200m breaststroke final, as well as Chad le Clos’ bronze medals in the men’s 100m and 200m butterfly events.
Aside from the SA squad raking in four medals at the biennial showpiece, Kaylene Corbett had also stuck up her hand by reaching the 200m breaststroke final, and there were multiple reasons for Hill to smile.
Corbett settled for eighth place behind Schoenmaker, however, and the rest of the SA team were unable to make any real impact, and Hill admitted they had some work to do if they hoped to increase the country’s depth in the pool in the build-up to the Tokyo Games.
“There were great performances all round from the medallists, and Kaylene really stepped up,” Hill said.
“Some of the others were a bit below par, and a bit disappointing, but we have time before Tokyo and we’ll have to see if they can step up.”
Le Clos, a former world and Olympic champion, was relieved to have shaken off a groin injury, securing a podium double.
Though he was completely outclassed by younger opponents in both the finals he contested, and he revealed he may need surgery to recover fully from his injury, Le Clos remained confident of chasing gold at the Tokyo spectacle.
“We’ll head back to the drawing board and regroup,” Le Clos said.
“But this has been a motivation for me, and I have all respect for these younger guys and the times they’re swimming, but they know I’m coming for them next year and I’ll be hunting for gold.”