Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Tatjana Schoenmaker: Five things to know about SA’s Olympic golden girl

While 24-year-old Schoenmaker made her Olympic debut in Tokyo, her story is not one of overnight success.

Closing out her Olympic campaign with gold and silver medals, breaststroke specialist Tatjana Schoenmaker carried the SA team in the swimming pool at the Tokyo Games.

Here are five things you might not know about the new 200m breaststroke world record holder.

Historic effort

Her results in Tokyo were memorable, for multiple reasons.

Schoenmaker became only the third South African woman to win an Olympic swimming title, after Joan Harrison, who took the top step on the podium in the 100m backstroke at the 1952 Helsinki Games, and Penny Heyns, who secured the 100m/200m breaststroke double at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

She also broke a lengthy drought as the first SA woman in 21 years to earn a medal in the pool.

Tatjana Schoenmaker Olympics
Tatjana Schoenmaker in action during the women’s 200m breaststroke event at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: Getty Images

No surprise

While 24-year-old Schoenmaker made her Olympic debut in Tokyo, her story is not one of overnight success.

She won gold in the 100m and 200m breaststroke finals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast and secured double gold again at the 2019 World Student Games in Naples.

She also earned the 200m silver at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, becoming the first SA woman to step on the podium at the biennial showpiece.

World-class coach

No athlete can succeed without support, and Schoenmaker has a great team around her, led by coach Rocco Meiring.

A former Swimming South Africa national director of coaching, Meiring opened the country’s first national training centre for elite swimmers in Pretoria.

He guides a strong training group at Tuks which also includes Kaylene Corbett, who finished fifth in the 200m breaststroke final in Tokyo.

ALSO READ: Schoenmaker shatters world record to win Olympic gold

Well qualified

Outside the pool, Schoenmaker is as capable as she is in the water.

Earlier in her career, her swimming took somewhat of a back seat to her studies until she earned a BCom in financial sciences at the University of Pretoria.

Though she focussed on swimming ahead of the Olympics, she told Tuks last year that she was considering pursuing a postgraduate qualification.

Switching off

Despite receiving an endless stream of messages during the Games, and her name being plastered in newspaper headlines around the world, Schoenmaker said she didn’t take much notice during her Olympic campaign.

“I haven’t seen anything since the day I started swimming. I put all notifications off on my phone so it was quiet and I could concentrate,” she said. “All the messages were good, but I only had so many days to focus on my racing, and I have the rest of the year to reply to everyone and say thanks.”

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Olympics Tatjana Schoenmaker Team SA

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