Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Given a second chance, Van Niekerk coasts into World Champs semis

Tatjana Schoenmaker's withdrawal opened the door for the rising star to keep her medal hopes alive.

Given a lifeline by esteemed compatriot Tatjana Schoenmaker, 20-year-old Lara van Niekerk took full advantage of the opportunity on Saturday to book her place in the 50m breaststroke final at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka.

Van Niekerk, who replaced Schoenmaker in the field for the semi-finals, was third quickest overall in 29.91 seconds – just 0.19 outside her own African record of 29.72.

Only Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania, who equalled the world record (29.30), and Lilly King of the United States (29.72) were quicker than the South African.

Van Niekerk, who earned bronze in the 50m breaststroke at last year’s World Championships, will line up again in the final at 1.09pm on Sunday’s last day of competition in the pool at the global showpiece.

She will hope to secure the SA team’s third medal at the 10-day gala.

Schoenmaker withdraws

Earlier on Saturday, in the morning session, fellow breaststroke specialist Schoenmaker had finished 14th overall in the 50m heats in 30.70, after securing 200m gold and 100m silver earlier in the week.

But while it seemed like Van Niekerk would miss out on the semi-finals after settling for 17th position in the sprint event in 30.76, Schoenmaker later withdrew from the penultimate round which opened the door for the rising star to progress among 16 qualifiers.

In other events, Emma Chelius was 23rd overall in the women’s 50m freestyle heats, touching the wall in 25.34 seconds, and Clayton Jimmie was 37th in the 50m backstroke heats in 25.97, with neither swimmer reaching the semi-finals.

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