MONTREAL, July 6. THE complexion of the men’s 400 freestyle relay at this month’s World Championships has changed drastically, thanks to an announcement by Swimming South Africa. The national governing body has announced that South Africa will not enter a squad in the event at the World Champs. The development is major news considering that the Springboks won gold at the Athens Olympics with a world-record performance.
Swimming South Africa’s President, Jace Naidoo, indicated the decision was made due to a number of factors. One reason is the fact that Lyndon Ferns is bypassing the event. Another reason, according to a story by the SABC News, is that Darian Townsend recently failed to break the 53-second barrier. Meanwhile, Gerhard Zandberg and Karl Thaning each failed to produce times warranting relay selection.
In Athens, South Africa cruised to a world-record clocking of 3:13.17, behind the quartet of Roland Schoeman (48.17), Ferns (48.13), Townsend (48.96) and Ryk Neethling (47.91). Schoeman and Neethling will compete individually at the World Champs and are serious medal contenders in the freestyle events. Schoeman won silver in the 100 free and bronze in the 50 free in Athens.
The absence of South Africa makes the United States the favorite to win the event in Montreal. At last summer’s Olympics, the U.S. captured bronze with the Netherlands securing the silver medal. At the World Championships, the Netherlands will be without Pieter van den Hoogenband, its freestyle sensation who is skipping the meet after having a hernia removed.