Lara van Niekerk, Pieter Coetze Post Strong Performances at Durban Grand Prix

Lara Van Niekerk -- Photo Courtesy: Gaby Benjamin/Swimming South Africa

Lara van Niekerk, Pieter Coetze Post Strong Performances at Durban Grand Prix

Several of South African’s top swimmers are racing this weekend at a Grand Prix meet in Durban, and World Championship medalist and Commonwealth Games champion Lara van Niekerk produced a strong swim in the 100 breaststroke to set herself up well for a return to the international stage later this year. Van Niekerk swam a time of 1:06.65 in Friday evening’s prelims, under the “A” qualifying time for the World Championships and the 2024 Olympics, and she returned to win the event in Saturday morning’s final in 1:07.88.

South Africa has quickly reached elite status in women’s breaststroke, with Tatjana Schoenmaker claiming Olympic gold and a world record in the 200 breast in 2021 and Kaylene Corbett taking fifth in the 200 breast Olympic final. One year later, both swimmers sat out the World Championships, leaving van Niekerk as the country’s lone representative, and after narrowly missing the 100 breast final, the 19-year-old earned bronze in the 50 breast.

Then, just over a month later, van Niekerk won gold medals in the 50 and 100 breast at the Commonwealth Games, swimming a Games-record time of 29.75 in the one-lap race before going 1:05.47, faster than the winning time in the event at the World Championships, in the 100 breast. In a landmark performance for South Africa’s women, Schoenmaker won silver in the 100 breast behind van Niekerk while Schoenmaker and Corbett scored gold and bronze, respectively in the 200 breast. Van Niekerk was named Swimming World’s African Female Swimmer of the Year for 2023.

In other events at the Durban meet, 50 backstroke Commonwealth Games bronze medalist and multi-time World Junior Championships medalist Pieter Coetze swam a time of 53.92 in the 100 back, also under the “A” qualifying mark for Worlds. Coetze, the 18-year-old who was named Swimming World African Male Swimmer of the Year, best time of 52.99, which he recorded while finishing second behind Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk at the World Junior Championships in November.

In other action, Commonwealth Games medalist Erin Gallagher won the 100 butterfly in 59.59 while Emma Chelius edged Gallagher in the 50 free, 25.57 to 25.73. Rebecca Meder won both the 200 IM (2:13.94) and 200 freestyle (2:00.92). Swimming South Africa’s Grand Prix will include another session of prelims Saturday evening and finals Sunday morning.

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