Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Happy, healthy and fit: It’s good to see Tatjana Smith back to her best

Smith's 200m breaststroke time in Gqeberha was just 0.06 outside her SA record and the fastest in the world this year.

As a journalist, it’s never easy to understand why an athlete is not performing. It’s not always based on lack of effort or injuries.

We watch them race, and we sometimes even see them train, but that’s about it. Unless they open up in interviews or in sideline chats, we never know what’s happening in their personal lives.

Like all human beings, these things affect them, and reasons for poor performance can often emerge from underlying troubles at home.

It’s not uncommon for reporters to share our thoughts between each other, and one statement that has been repeated is that Tatjana Smith (née Schoenmaker) is never happy. In recent years she has come across as rather dull and depressed.

That’s a little harsh, but it’s not far off. She often seemed to carry a solemn demeanour.

Tears of joy

Not this week. On the sidelines of the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha, after stopping the clock in the 200m breaststroke final in a very fast time of 2:19.01, she showed real emotion.

During an interview, she burst into tears. And they weren’t sad tears. She was sharing how happy she is these days, and she carried a beaming smile.

It’s not my business, and it can be uncomfortable to ask, so unless Smith opens up about the details, we might never know what was keeping her down.

It is, however, awesome to see that whatever it was seems to have been resolved.

Back on top

Newly married, and now using her new surname, she looks to have turned a corner in her personal life, and her results show it.

Able to concentrate fully on her training and preparation, she has regained the form we saw her in three years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, and that’s a relief ahead of this season’s Paris Games.

Her 200m time in Gqeberha was just 0.06 outside her SA record, which was a world record when she set it, and she is clearly in the shape of her life (especially considering she achieved this without being pushed by the global elite).

Since Tokyo, Smith’s world record has been broken by Russian athlete Evgeniia Chikunova (2:17.55), and she is going to have to be at her best to challenge for another gold medal.

Based on how she’s swimming right now, however, and the positive state she finds herself in, she has proved that she will again be a contender.

Her form and demeanour also serve as a reminder to us hacks that we shouldn’t judge an athlete’s performances based purely on physical effort. They are human too.

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