Led by Pieter Coetze, Nine South Africans book Worlds Spots at Champs

Pieter Coetze
Pieter Coetze. Photo Courtesy: Swimming South Africa

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Led by Pieter Coetze, Nine South Africans book Worlds Spots at Champs

Pieter Coetze earned auto qualifying times for the 2022 World Championships in four events at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha last week.

Coetze and eight other swimmers grabbed 17 automatic qualifying times for Worlds in Budapest and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. The group ran the gamut from Olympic champions like Tatjana Schoenmaker and Chad le Clos to fast-rising junior swimmers like Matt Sates and Lara van Niekerk.

First Coetze, who stamped himself as a contender in backstroke events this summer. He won the 100 back on the meet’s first day, with a quickest time of 53.96 seconds in prelims, to earn an auto cut. He set a time of 22.15 seconds off the front of Aquatics Gauteng Tshwane’s 200 free relay, then won the event in 22.34 seconds.

He added a 50 back cut, his best time a 24.94 from prelims. He eschewed the 200 back final to focus on the 50 free but he nevertheless attained the A cut in a time trial, going 1:56.92. His previous best from last summer was 1:58.33.

“It was a bit faster than I expected because building up to these trials I did more sprint training for the 100 and the 50, so to get the 200 and to get it that comfortably was very nice,” Coetze told Swimming South Africa. “It wasn’t unexpected – I was going for it – but to go a 1:56 was crazy so I’m really happy with that.”

Matt Sates continued to do his usual bit in dominant form. He started the meet by winning the 400 individual medley in 3:49.37, a B cut. He also won the 100 free in 48.97, a B cut. He was also second to Le Clos in the 100 fly in 52.06.

The University of Georgia freshman threatened his personal best in the 200 free in 1:46.15 on the meet’s second day to secure an A cut, just .04 off his best time. He added an auto cut in the 200 IM, going 1:58.37.

“I’m very happy with it,” Sates said. “Coming back from America and getting back into long course, it’s all a work in progress.”

Le Clos is guaranteed to swim the 100 and 200 fly in Budapest. He’s a two-time world champ in both distances. Le Clos went from the third seed in prelims of the 100 fly tow in in 51.88, nipping Sates at the wall.

“Matt is a superstar,” Le Clos said. “I was happy to get the win of course because it was quite a tight race. I was nervous, I knew he was coming at me because he’s been finishing like a beast the last couple of races… but I’m very happy with the win and hopefully both of us can move forward with this event.”

Le Clos blitzed the field in the 200 fly, winning in 1:55.75. He also won the 50 fly in 23.93, three tenths off the auto time.

The men’s 50 free proved a valedictory swim for Olympic finalist Brad Tandy, who finished third. In between was Michael Houlie in 23.01 seconds. That won’t get him to Worlds, but his winning time in the 50 breaststroke of 27.22 will.

The women’s competition, which will send five to Worlds, provided the most intrigue. It began on the days first meet with Lara van Niekerk upsetting Schoenmaker in the 50 breaststroke. Both times were under the FINA A standard, but the 18-year-old Van Niekerk got to the wall first in 30.60 seconds, with Schoenmaker .27 back.

Schoenmaker got her win two days later in the 200 breast, the event in which she’s the reigning champ. She went 2:24.01, and both she and fellow Olympic finalist Kaylene Corbett (2:24.66) are bound for Budapest.

In the 100 breast showdown, though, Van Niekerk downed pulled another upset on the Tokyo silver medalist, clocking in at 1:05.67. Both she and Schoenmaker’s 1:06.06 earned Worlds spots.

“I was expecting a 1:05 but not that quick,” Van Niekerk said. “I was expecting a 1:05.9 so I’m super-happy. I surprised myself and I think a lot of people in the stands. I was really nervous before, just knowing she’s an Olympic silver medalist in the 100 and she’s always very strong coming back. I always go out fast, so I knew coming back I had to go into another gear and just try my best and keep holding on so I’m really happy.”

Aimee Canny started the meet by getting to Worlds in the 200 free her time of 1:58.34 under the A standard. The Tokyo Olympian and University of Virginia commit also won the 100 free in 54.71, just .46 off the auto cut.

She’ll be joined by sprinter Emma Chelius, who took two chances to get her auto cut. The 25-year-old won the individual event in 25.08, .04 off the A standard, but led off the KwaZulu Natal 200 free relay in 24.95 to formally qualify.

The meet presented a chance for a handful of international swimmers. British swimmer Max Litchfield was second in the 400 free, 200 free, 200 IM (all to Sates) and 200 fly (to Le Clos), all in solid consideration times for Worlds. Indian swimmer Anish Gowda won the men’s 800 free.

South African Worlds/Commonwealth Games qualifiers

  • Aimee Canny (women’s 200 freestyle)
  • Emma Chelius (women’s 50 freestyle)
  • Kaylene Corbett (women’s 200 breaststroke)
  • Tatjana Schoenmaker (women’s 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke)
  • Lara van Niekerk (women’s 50 and 100 breaststroke)
  • Pieter Coetze (men’s 50, 100, and 200 backstroke, and 50 freestyle)
  • Michael Houlie (men’s 50 breaststroke)
  • Chad le Clos (men’s 100 and 200 butterfly)
  • Matt Sates (men’s 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley)
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