By Karien Jonckheere
DURBAN, South Africa, September 21. ROLAND Schoeman may have returned to his base in Arizona last week. But South Africans will be seeing plenty more of him in the coming months as he continues with his preparations for next year's World Championships in Melbourne and ultimately the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Schoeman's recent trip was for a well-deserved break but the next time the 26-year-old champion returns to South Africa it will be for the World Championship Trials in Durban in December. Having broken a world record in the short course 50m freestyle in Germany in August, Schoeman went on to compete at the Pan Pacific Championships in Canada, but a tough summer's training seemed to catch up on him there.
"I wasn't happy with where I was at Pan Pacs but it was very much a learning experience," admitted Schoeman just before leaving the country. "This summer's training was a lot longer – and I did a lot more distance stuff and aerobic training than I'm accustomed to. My speed definitely failed because of that but it was something that I had to do leading into the next Olympics and because we're going to be racing very frequently over the next few years, I had to have that base in place. "In order for me to go 47-low in the 100m freestyle long course, I needed to have some sort of base behind me."
Schoeman said he was disappointed with his performances at the Pan Pacs, where he collected silver in the 50m freestyle and bronze in the 100m freestyle but it was important to move on and refocus on next year's World Championships.
"I wasn't happy with the way I swam at Pan Pacs , especially coming off a word record swim in Hamburg, but bygones are bygones," he said. "I hadn't had a break from swimming in ages. I've been on a break for three weeks now and I spoke to (sports scientist) Tim Noakes and I also spoke to my coach and all three of us felt that that right now is the best time to have a bit of a break, whether it be four or eight weeks. When I have that unbelievable burning desire that now is the time, which is probably going to come round sooner than later, then it's time to get back in and get ready."
Schoeman said that while he will return to South Africa in December for the Trials, that competition is not his top priority, having already pre-qualified for the World Championships.
"I want to come back, and be in South Africa over December – I think it's very important but World Champs is my next one. World Champs is where I get redemption in the 50m freestyle and the 100m freestyle, especially after (reigning world champion Filippo) Magnini's antics at European champs, walking down, grabbing a crown and sticking his hands in the air like he was king of everything. It's time for a little bit of payback."
As for the payback he plans to hand to the American relay team which eclipsed the South Africans' 400m freestyle relay world record, Schoeman reckoned:
"I think we can get it back in Beijing. I know I'm getting better. Lyndon's had a great summer this year, Darian's finally in Arizona where he should have been and Ryk's Ryk. So it's a matter of training hard. I think the pressure is off our backs – we're not the world record holders anymore, we're not number one anymore. We're virtually where we were in 2004. People are going to wonder about us but nobody will be approaching it like – 'these are the world record holders, we've got to beat them'. The Americans hadn't held the record in that event for ages. Given the talent that they have, it really was about time for them to put a decent relay team together. "It'll be interesting. There's always a lot of pressure on the U.S. at the Olympics so I think we'll be sitting pretty. We've got as good a shot as anyone else, if not more."