By Neville Smith
DURBAN, South Africa, April 21. THE final night of the Telkom South African Aquatic Championships and Olympic Trials played out to the final throw of the dice for many athletes’ Olympic aspirations.
The ladies' 100m freestyle final got matters underway.
Top seed and favorite, the 16-year-old Lauren Roets (NTS) looked the likely candidate to secure the elusive Olympic QT of 55,58. A tad off in the semis, it was her last throw of the dice.
Powerfully off the blocks, she came up ahead of the field and looked confident going into the wall well ahead of the field in a 26,84. The trailing pack chasing in unison with the Western Province duo of Rene Mouton and Christine Zwiggers heading the charge made no impact on Roets.
Head down and hanging tough, Roets surged for the wall claiming victory in convincing fashion. Her disappointment was evident when she cast her gaze to the scoreboard: her 56,60 was not good enough to make the cut.
Mouton (58,13) and Zwiggers (58,54) maintained position to claim the minor placing with Ise Petersen (CGA) (58,76) the only other finalist to go under 59 seconds.
For many years the talented Chris Stewart (NTS) has had to live in the shadow of one of South Africa’s truly great male swimmers, Brett Peterson. Stewart held the Africa 50m breastroke mark briefly on the 9th of September 1999, only to see Peterson snatch it from him minutes later. The venue, The All Africa Games at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, and the time 28,05.
A great competitor, Stewart has been plying his trade in Tennessee for the past four years. He returns a journeyman and swimming as fast as ever.
Going into the 50m breastroke final tonight as top seed only helped to take Stewart to greater heights. A perfect start saw him take a slender lead off the blocks. His high work rate saw him edge ahead and was looking good with 10m to go.
Ian Clutten (WP) lunged, Greg Owen (CGA) had a bad finish and Louis Lotter (KZN) sneaked in to claim the silverware.
Stewarts’ 28,84 was well off that mark set on a warm autumn's afternoon nearly five years ago, but the victory was far sweeter. Clutten was delighted with his 29,00 while Lotter (29,32) will be well satisfied with a grab of the spoils.
Ziada Jardine (WP) had the ladies event in the bag, but a fast finishing Natalie Burke (WP) denied her teammate and training partner the title after she produced an awesome last 10m to out touch the top seed.
Burkes’ time of 33,20 was well off the national mark set by golden girl Penny Heyns back in August 1999 at the Pan Pacs in Sydney, but the victory will be just as sweet.
Jardine had to settle for silver with a 33,22 while Ingrid Haiden made it a clean sweep for Province claiming bronze in a time of 33,68. Coach Karoly von Toros will I’m sure be satisfied.
When Roland Schoeman steps up onto the blocks, expect some excitement.
Last night he went a world-leading 21,98 leading off the Northern Tiers 200m freestyle relay squad, msking him the sixth fastest man in history. What was in store for the crowd tonight when he swam the 50m fly?
Characteristically off the blocks in a flash, Schoeman was never challenged and it was always going to be a battle for the minor placing.
His 23,61 clipped, 05 off the African mark he established at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
Teammate Lyndon Ferns claimed silver with a 24,58 while bronze went to Borders’ Fouche Venter whose 24,98 is a new national age group record for 18-year-old boys.
The ladies' event was a nail-bitter with Lize-Mari Retief (CGA) (27,95) claiming victory over training partner Mandy Loots (27,98) and the powerful Renate duPlessis (WP) who was shaded with her 27,99.
The men’s 400m Individual Medley was a doodle for the indomnible Terence Parkin (KZN) when he opened a commanding lead from the gun and was never challenged for the honors. His victory time of 4:23,26 was well off his national mark of 4:16,92 set at the Sydney Olympics in August 2000.
He will, in all probability, go under the 4:20,17 required for the Olympic qualifier during the forthcoming Mare Nostrum Series in Europe in the company of quality opposition. The question is: will NOCSA allow this? He has already qualified for the 200m breaststroke.
The battle for the minor placing was a sensational bone among the
“youngsters”. Rohan Jacobs (KZN) held sway well into the breastroke leg, but William Diering (NW) and training partner Byron de Waal hunted him down going into the final 100m.
All that effort and work and now it was down to a 100m freestyle sprint. Stroke for stroke the trio advanced down the penultimate lap. Diering got his nose ahead on the turn but the persistent Jacobs battled on. deWaal challenged, Diering responded and Jocobs hung tough and claimed the bronze in a time of 4:37,37, while Diering was well pleased with his 4:36,63 for silver.
The ladies' event had the home crowd on its feet as 14 year old Kathryn Meaklim (4:58,34) swam nearly five seconds faster than her nearest rival over the last 100m to deny pre race favorite Tamaryn Laubscher (NTS) the title.
Laubscher just had to finish with 10m to go to claim the title, but in lane 7 in stormed a determined Meaklim much to the delight of the partisan crowd.
Bronze went to 13 year old Christy Lategan (NW) whose 5:02,00 was enough to edge out Candice Little (CGA) (5:02,37).
The men’s 100m backstoke saw Gerhard Zandberg equal his national and continental mark of 55,44 that he established during the semifinals last night. Well under the Olympic Qualifying time of 55,63 the likeable Zandberg will now return to Pretoria to make final preparations for his assault on Athens where he is sure to stand tall .
The minor placing went to the Western Province duo of Simon Thirsk (57,33) and Jon Hugo (58,20).
Only two swimmers qualified in the mixed multi disability 100m backstroke.
The event was won by Craig Groenewald (S14) (CGA) who posted a Para Olympic QT as did Tiaan du Plessis (S8) (KZN).
The ladies' 100m backstroke was exciting but not fast. Charlene Wittstock tried her best to get close to the 1:02,42 standard but her 1:03,17 was a tad off the pace and will now have to sit back and reflect on what might have been, her Athens dreams in tatters.
The Western Province duo of Romy Altmann (1:04,06) and Renate duPlessis (1:04,22) claimed the silverware with Melissa Corfe (KZN) in fourth place with 1:04,23 ahead of training partners Romina Armellini (CGA) (1:04,51) and Monique Malan (KZN) (1:05,06).
The men’s 1500 freestyle was the final individual event of the competition and all eyes were on the promising KZN youngster Troyden Prinsloo who has promised much in the long distance events domestically.
The 15:14,43 Olympic QT was always going to be a tough ask and would have mean’s that Prinsloo would have to record a PB to get a look into the Athens setup.
Working hard it was 800m-victor Mark Randall (Bo) who worked well with Prinsloo in an effort to assist him in reaching his goal. Going through 800, Prinsloo was a tad off the pace but Randall was still keeping him honest.
At the 1000m mark Randall fell off the pace leaving Prinsloo to pursue his dreams.
Despite his best efforts it was clear with 100m to go that Prinsloo was going to be off the pace, it was just a question of how close. His 15:25,73 was off his PB and it was hard to hide his disappointment.
Randall claimed the silver unchallenged with a time of 15:37,79 while Dustin Dale (CGA) (16:23,59) did enough to secure bronze. Fourth placed Shane Fantham (Bo) set a new national age group record for 14 year olds with his fourth placed effort of 16:27,80.
That concluded the championships.
The sad fact is that for the first time since South Africa’s readmission to international sport we do not have a female Olympic qualifier. Will NOCSA hold the door open for the pretenders until after the participation at the Mare Nostrum? Only time will tell.
The future bodes well for swimming in this country with the newly formed National and Regional High Performance Centers. A promising crop of youngsters put up their hands at this meet. One just hopes that they are around come 2008.