Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

SA swimming has more to shout about than World Champs medals

Aside from Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa's Olympic swimming team is expected to feature the likes of Chad le Clos, Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetze.

Based on the results, it might seem concerning that South Africa produced only one medallist at the World Aquatics Championships, but a glance at the bigger picture suggests we are on the right track.

With swimmers expected to lead the charge for the SA team at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris, it would have been more pleasing to see multiple individuals on the podium in Fukuoka last week.

Instead, only Tatjana Schoenmaker delivered, securing a historic gold medal in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m breaststroke.

Van Niekerk fights back

And while Schoenmaker has clearly shown she is a contender to retain her Olympic 200m title in Paris, there was also a glimmer of hope from fellow breaststroke specialist Lara van Niekerk.

After securing 50m bronze at last year’s World Championships, 20-year-old Van Niekerk was expected to blow it out the water in Fukuoka.

Instead, she was disappointing in the 100m event, failing to progress beyond the heats, and she looked to have bombed out after a horrible start in the opening round of the 50m sprint.

Handed a free opportunity by Schoenmaker, however, who withdrew from the 50m semi-finals in order to make way for her, Van Niekerk rose to the occasion.

Granted, she did not reach the podium, but Van Niekerk did well to bounce back, finishing fourth and missing out on a medal by a few fractions of a second.

She still has a lot to learn, but Van Niekerk gained significant value from having to dig deep, and this will be useful as she steps up to the Olympic stage.

Other contenders

In addition, the SA team was missing Chad le Clos, who fell ill ahead of the World Championships after making a spectacular comeback last season, as well as Pieter Coetze, who made himself unavailable in order to focus on the Olympics, and they could both be in the hunt in Paris.

So it wasn’t spectacular in terms of overall results, but we can take a lot from the SA squad’s campaign in Fukuoka, and things are still looking pretty good ahead of the multi-sport showpiece in Paris.

Based on how things stand right now, we can hope for more medals at the Games. And in any Olympic sport, that’s the most important thing of all.