Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
3 minute read
31 Aug 2019
9:40 am

Women in Sport: Hartswater’s pride wants to make waves

Wesley Botton

Kaylene Corbett might be overshadowed a bit by her friend and competitor Tatjana Schoenmaker, but he's rapidly catching up after a superb African Games.

Kaylene Corbett during day 5 of the SA National Aquatic Championships at Kings Park Swimming Pool on April 12, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Having taken every opportunity she has been offered thus far in the early stages of her international career, rising swimming star Kaylene Corbett hopes to take another step forward next year by representing her country at the Olympic Games.

While her compatriot Tatjana Schoenmaker has led the charge in recent years, with Corbett playing a back seat role, the 20-year-old breaststroke specialist has made a significant contribution to the improved standard of South African women’s swimming.

Born in the small town of Hartswater in the Northern Cape, Corbett took to the water at a young age and started competing in galas when she was eight.

At the age of 10 she moved with her family to Port Elizabeth, and after completing her secondary education at Pearson High School she had since settled down in the capital city where she was a first-year education student at the University of Pretoria.

And while she had not made as many waves as Tuks teammate Schoenmaker, Corbett had already established her place among the nation’s top swimmers.

Spreading her wings in 2015, at the age of 16, she represented the country for the first time at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia, showcasing her tremendous potential by returning home with four medals.

Two years later she stepped up to senior level, and though she was still a teenager, Corbett did well to qualify for the 2017 World Championships in Budapest.

Last season she improved even further, reaching the 200m breaststroke final at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, where she finished eighth.

While the second half of her 2018 campaign was derailed by an ankle injury, Corbett proved this season that she had fully recovered.

Last month she finished fourth in the 200m final at the World Student Games in Naples, narrowly missing out on a medal, and she went on to reach the four-length final at the World Championships in Gwangju where she ended eighth, with Schoenmaker earning a historic silver medal.

“It boiled down to the two of us against the world,” Corbett told TuksSport, recalling the race at the global showpiece.

“When we realised the enormity of what we had achieved, it was incredible, Tatjana being the first South African female swimmer to win a medal at worlds, and myself being the eighth best in the world. Both of us shed tears of joy.”

Building on her superb form, Corbett shone for the SA team at the African Games in Rabat last week.

Taking the chance to stand out in the absence of Schoenmaker, she swept the breaststroke events, winning gold ahead of compatriot Christin Mundell in the 50m, 100m and 200m finals.

Corbett also formed part of the victorious national women’s and mixed 4x100m medley relay teams, contributing five of the SA swimming squad’s 20 gold medals.

Her latest results proved once again that Corbett had a bright future, and while her best performances were probably not yet within her reach, she was eager to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo next year after making significant progress this season under the guidance of Tuks swimming coach Rocco Meiring.

Having opened her 2019 campaign with a 200m personal best of 2:27.90, Corbett had since reduced her career record to 2:24.18, dipping well under the qualifying standard of 2:25.52 for the Tokyo Games.

And though he had evidently played a role in her continued improvement, Meiring felt Corbett deserved most of the credit for the accolades she had achieved.

“The only thing I did was to give her a bit of guidance as to how much faster she needs to swim the first 100m,” Meiring said.

“The rest was up to her, and she made it all about guts and passion.”

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