Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
18 Jun 2022
8:51 am

Teenage swimmers lead SA medal charge at World Aquatics Champs

Wesley Botton

Matthew Sates and Lara van Niekerk are expected to put up a fight for podium places in the Hungarian capital.

Matthew Sates at the Fina World Cup gala in Budapest last year. Picture: Getty Images

A team of 66 swimmers, divers, water polo players and artistic swimmers will represent South Africa at the World Aquatics Championships starting in Budapest on Saturday.

While the national squad will compete in a range of codes and disciplines, SA’s medal charge will be led by the swimming team.

So who do we have at the two-week showpiece, and what chances do they have of stepping on the podium?

Matt Sates

One of two teenagers who have been sensational in the build-up to the biennial showpiece, Sates has made a real impact over the last year.

After claiming the overall title in the short-course World Cup series last season, the 18-year-old prodigy dominated his events during the recent Mare Nostrum series in Europe, going unbeaten to secure nine gold medals.

He will compete in the 200m and 400m individual medley events, as well as the 100m butterfly and the 200m freestyle.

Lara van Niekerk

Breaststroke specialist Van Niekerk also did well at the recent Mare Nostrum series, finishing second overall in the women’s standings, but her biggest splash this season was made at home.

ALSO READ: All you need to know abut Lara van Niekerk

After beating double Olympic medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker in the 100m final at the national championships in April, Van Niekerk will be eager to chase the podium in the absence of her better known compatriot, with Schoenmaker skipping the global spectacle in order to focus on the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Van Niekerk will compete in the 50m and 100m breaststroke in the Hungarian capital.

Breaststroke swimmer Lara van Niekerk
Lara van Niekerk on her way to breaking her own national 50m breaststroke record at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha earlier this year. Picture: Gallo Images

Chad le Clos

Gone are the days when Le Clos offered the country its best chance for a medal, and while he won’t be among the favourites against younger and quicker opponents, he has the experience and the BMT to potentially spring a surprise.

ALSO READ: Chad le Clos cracks SA swim team for World Champs

Le Clos earned medals at four successive editions of the World Championships between 2013 and 2019, but he just isn’t as quick as he used to be, and after missing the podium at the Tokyo Olympics last year, the 30-year-old national icon is likely to struggle once again.

He will turn out in the 100m and 200m butterfly.

Other events

In other codes, former elite swimmer Ayrton Sweeney will make history, becoming the first man to represent South Africa in artistic swimming at the World Championships when he turns out in the mixed duet with Laura Strugnell.

Elsewhere, the SA water polo teams will be hoping to punch above their weight in the men’s and women’s tournaments, while Ruan Breytenbach will make his World Championships debut in the 5km and 10km open water marathons, and 16-year-old diver Zalika Methula will compete in the individual 1m springboard event.