Wesley Botton

Compiled by Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Schoenmaker and Van Niekerk ready to make a splash at World Champs

Veteran sprinter Roland Schoeman will make an international comeback at the age of 43.

Breaststroke specialists Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lara van Niekerk will lead the South African contingent in the pool when the swimming competition gets underway on Sunday at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

While the national squad struggled to put up a fight in the first half of the multi-sport aquatics showpiece, Schoenmaker and Van Niekerk are expected to get them on the medals table by returning to the podium at the biennial showpiece.

Olympic build-up

After skipping last year’s World Championships in Budapest, in order to focus on the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Olympic champion Schoenmaker said she was eager to make a comeback at top-flight level in the build-up to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Though she was hoping to step on the podium in Fukuoka, the 200m breaststroke world record holder admitted she was more focussed on her build-up to the 2024 Games in the French capital.

Tatjana Schoenmaker
Tatjana Schoenmaker in action at the SA Championships in Gqeberha earlier this year. Picture: Anton Geyser/SASI/Gallo Images

“It’s definitely a stepping stone and a great opportunity to race some of the girls who will definitely be racing in Paris, so these types of championships are always major,” Schoenmaker said.

“I think this is the biggest championships for swimming as a sport so it’s a big deal, but whatever happens here is not the result of what’s going to happen in Paris, so I don’t think we put too much pressure on it. It’s just to get that racing done.”

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One of Schoenmaker’s strongest challenges is expected to come from 20-year-old compatriot Van Niekerk, who earned the country’s only medal at last year’s World Championships when she bagged bronze in the 50m breaststroke.

“I think last year’s results just show me what is possible, and that makes me more excited to race the best again,” Van Niekerk said.

Schoeman returns

Meanwhile, veteran sprinter Roland Schoeman, a three-time world champion, will make an international comeback at the age of 43 as he returns to the World Championships for the first time in 10 years. He will compete in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly events.

Other members of the 11-member SA swimming team who will compete at the eight-day gala in Fukuoka include Aimee Canny, Emma Chelius, Milla Drakopoulos, Trinity Hearne, Michael Houlie, Clayton Jimmie, Rebecca Meder and Righardt Muller.

After making a superb return to form over the last couple of years, Chad le Clos was set to compete at his eighth long-course World Championships but he withdrew after missing five weeks of training due to illness.

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