JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 11. SUDDENLY, South Africa has gone from the favorite in the 400 freestyle relay at the World Championships to fighting for an appearance in the Montreal competition. Such is the impact of Lyndon Ferns opting to bypass the meet.
When Swimming South Africa announced its roster for the World Championships, the list did not include Ferns, a standout at the University of Arizona. Rather than compete in Montreal, the sprinter has decided to focus on his university commitments. That decision significantly hinders South Africa’s chances of winning a medal.
Last summer at the Athens Olympics, the quartet of Roland Schoeman, Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling won gold in a world-record time of 3:13.17. During that relay, Ferns uncorked a split of 48.13 and helped South Africa claim a 1.19-second victory over the Netherlands.
According to Karien Jonckheere, a journalist with The Star of Johannesburg, Ferns’ place will be filled by either Karl Thaning or Gerhard Zandberg, provided one of the two men can post a sub-51-second swim prior to June 30.
"Yes, they are definitely big shoes to fill," Thaning said. "Because I think now everyone is watching to see if they can do the same thing twice, which would show the depth we have in South African swimming. But I'm not really thinking about that at the moment. I'm kind of just taking it one race at a time. I need to focus on getting my time down.”
A member of the South African Olympic squad, Thaning clocked 49.25 during the medley relay in Athens. If he can manage a time of that sort once again, South Africa will remain in the gold-medal mix. Still, Ferns’ absence leaves major work to be done.
The South African team for the World Championships includes Jean Basson, Thabang Moeketsane, Ryk Neethling, Mark Randall, Troyden Prinsloo, Roland Schoeman, Darian Townsend, Garth Tune, Melissa Corfe, Mandy Loots, Suzaan van Biljon and Chanelle van Wyk. Zandberg, Thaning and Tabby Laubscher are pending selections.