By Neville Smith
DURBAN, South Africa, April 18. AN easterly breeze picked up in Durban on Sunday evening, bringing welcome relief to many, however the heat was on in the Kings Park pool where some scorching racing was seen.
The third evening of the Telkom South African Aquatic Championships and Olympic Trials was a mixture of pulsating racing as once again Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman took center stage to head the card. Add a couple of continental marks to the mix, the determined Natalie du Toits attempt to do what so many have thus far failed, (that elusive Olympic QT), and a pretty good evenings entertainment could be expected. The small crowd was not disappointed.
The ladies' 200m freestyle semis got the proceedings underway with Erna Wadermayer (NTS) coming up trumps. Her time of 2:07,19 saw her seeded third for tomorrow night's final. Marizanne Grundling (WP) (2:07,49) who placed second in the heat and Leonie Voster (NP) (2:07,98) both advanced to the final ultimately heading a group of nine swimmers who were within a second of each other.
The second semi saw local sensation Melissa Corfe really take the race to the other competitors, gaining a massive psychological advantage going into tomorrow nights final when she produced a solid 2:03,41. Ilse Peterson (CGA) headed the pack in a time of 2:06,10.
Corfes charge for the elusive Olympic QT will surely take center stage tomorrow evening.
With the men’s final next up all eyes were on Ryk Neethling (KZN).
A perfect start saw Neethling head the pack with Swiss national Dominik Meichtry and the talented Darian Townsend (KZN) right up there with the “big guy”. The promising 16-year-old Jean Basson (CGA) headed the fading pack, maintaining contact with his more illustrious competitors.
Coming into the home stretch Neethling was a clear winner in yet another new national and continental mark of 1:47.37.
"I wanted to swim 1:46 but it's difficult to do when you're swimming alone in front," said Neethling afterwards.
"I know I can do 1:46 though. It's not much of a barrier for me. But I haven't raced over 200m for about four years now so I'm just really learning to swim it again," he added.
The chase however saw a delighted Meichtry savour the moment after posting a 1:49.21 well under the 1:49,60 Olympic QT and will surely be packing his bags with the Swiss Olympic squad come August.
Townsend claimed the silver in a time of 1:50.07 while Basson was a clear winner of the bronze in a time of 1:51.76. At 16 years old Basson is an athlete with a bright future.
The 200m-breastroke semifinals followed.
The ladies event saw Tamaryn Laubscher (NTS) post the fastest time from heat two with a 2:32.59 and will certainly have her work cut out if she to go under the 2:28.21 standard.
The talented Ronwyn Roper (KZN) winner of heat one will be seeded second after her effort of 2:35.27 while Ingrid Haiden (WP) posted the third fastest time with 2:36.15.
However all eyes will be on 13-year-old Jean-Marie Neethling (FS) whose time of 2:37.23 sees her seeded fourth going into the final after a big effort over the back 100.
The men’s event was a cracker.
Greg Owen (CGA) set the pace in heat one with a solid 2:16.58 swimming alone and unchallenged. Both William Deiring (NW)(2:20.97) and Henri Oosthuizen (NTS) (2:24,47) advanced to the final from this heat.
Heat two saw Neil Versveld (KZN) throw down an early challenge to Terence Parkin (KZN) when he made Parkin work hard over the final lap to secure victory and that all important top seeding for tomorrow nights final.
The showdown between Parkin (2:15.58), Verveld (2:15.98) and Owen will surely be a battle royale. The Olympic QT of 2:14.20 should be a “dodder” for this trio and with two spots up for grabs a cracker can be expected.
The 50m backstroke semis followed.
Charlene Wittstock (CGA) posted a 29.48 to head up the seeding for tomorrow nights final. Renate du Plessis (WP) (30.02), Romina Armellini (CGA) (30.08), Monique Malan (30,27) and Romy Altman (WP) (30.66) are all in the mix and some exciting racing is predicted.
Gerhard Zandberg (NTS) is a class act. His 25.44 seemed effortless as he claimed the top seeding ahead of Simon Thirsk (WP) who looked good with his 26.97. The rest of the field all came in in the low 27 range and bronze should come out of these competitors.
The ladies' 800m freestyle followed.
During the morning I had a chat with Rafique Bedford a leading coach from the Western cape and also my colleague on the SSA Open Water Swimming Advisory Committee. We were discussing various aspects of the discipline but more importantly the future of our sport and the youth aspect of elite squads.
He mentioned that I should watch a 14-year-old lady who was swimming in the 800 free. I did and what a shining star. Her name Wendy Trott. Say it again, because it’s a name that will become very familiar in South African swimming in years to come.
Swimming out of lane 6 Trott, trotted into the lead from the gun with a determined Natalie du Toit (WP) in lane 5 on her shoulder desperately hoping to live her dream of qualifying for the Athens Olympics as an able bodied swimmer.
Sadly this was not to be as the determined Trott dug in her heels and gradually extended her lead over du Toit and the rest of the field recording a time of 8:54.97 well off the Olympic QT of 8:36.94 and Melissa Corfe’s national mark of 8:49.96 established at the KZN Championships in January 2003.
Du Toit will now turn her attentions to the Paralympics after posting a gutsy 9:01.41 to slash a massive 13,51 seconds off her time in the prelims.
Third place and bronze went to Velia van Rensburg (EP) who recorded a 9:08.10 just ahead of another promising 14 year old, Katheryn Meaklim who went a 9:08.87.
Roll on Roland!
This fellow is a class act. The man is a journeyman. He has learned his trade well. When he steps up to the blocks, there is a job to be done and he goes about it ruthlessly.
Tonight was no exception. Having posted a 53.58 in the prelims of the 100m fly, Eugene Botes’ national mark established in August 2003 at the US Nationals was under serious threat.
Swimming in semi two the Northern Tiger watched as teammate and training partner Lyndon Ferns edged out the record holder in semi one. Ferns, fastest out in a 25.32, held on to win the heat in 54.50. Botes went a 54.55, while Hungarian youngster Peter Hos will swim in the final in 7th seed after posting a 55.97
Schoeman maximising his underwater work was into a fluid stoke early and powered away from the field turning on 24.34 to smash the existing mark with a staunch 52.73, a full 0.76 seconds under Botes' record.
Kings Park will, I am sure be at capacity on Monday evening when Roland once again takes centre stage in his effort to lift the bar just a tad higher.
The ladies event was predictable with Mandy Loots (CGA) and Renate du Plessis (WP) heading for a showdown in the final after recording a 1:01.06 and 1:01.85 respectively.
Lize-Mari Retief (CGA) with a 1:02.49 and Lauren Sparg (KZN) with her 1:02.62 should provide able opposition, however the biggest challenge will be to dip under the magic sixty second barrier, something that has never happened in this event domestically.
Mandy Loots set the continental mark at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Her time of 59.63 is just, 0.04 seconds below the Olympic QT of 59.67. Tough call.
The Mixed Multi Disability 100m butterfly was won by Nathan Oliver (GGA) who is has a S8 class disability when he posted a 1:13.40 which was 91.12% of the world record and earned him a qualification standard for this event at the Athens Para Olympics that follow the Summer Games in August.
In this event there were no losers as seven competitors with varying disabilities qualified for the games.
They were Craig Groenewald (CGA) (S14), David Cotes (CGA) (S14), Handri de Beer (NTS) (S13), Leanne Storrenberg (WP) (S14), Cornellia Fowler (KZN) (S14) and Dot Smit (NTS) (S14)