Olympics: Tatjana Schoenmaker Supplies First Individual World Record in 200 Breast (Updated)

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) , Lilly King (USA) and Annie Lazor (USA) are congratulated by Kaylene Corbett (RSA) after the women's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

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Olympics: Tatjana Schoenmaker Supplies First Individual World Record in 200 Breast

Two black caps and two green caps bobbed in a puddle of joy at the Tokyo Aquatic Center Friday morning. The emotions ran the gamut, for satisfaction to surprise to utter, inexpressible elation. Together, the four women who lit up the Olympic final of the 200 breaststroke rejoiced not just for themselves but for each other.

Tears flowed for Tatjana Schoenmaker, the winner of the 200 breast in a world record 2:18.95. It’s been a dominant Olympics for the South African, who also won silver in the 100 breast. After hoping merely to make a final in the Games, she ended up not just with a gold medal but the first individual world record in the pool, a feat that moved her to tears anew in the mixed zone.

“To be honest, it feels still so unreal,” Schoenmaker said. “I really feel that in this moment.”

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) reacts after winning the women's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Tatjana Schoenmaker; Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

The two women in the lanes to Schoenmaker’s left had reason to join the exultation. Lilly King, who stomached the disappointment of bronze in the women’s 100 breast, executed her race plan almost flawlessly in the 200, going out fast and hanging on for silver in 2:19.92. The only thing that could make it better was to look over and see that her American teammate and Indiana University training partner Annie Lazor had surged over the final 50 to nab bronze by .04 over Evgeniia Chikunova of Russia.

Joining the celebration was South African Kaylene Corbett, who turned in a stellar swim to finish fifth in 2:22.06. Both South Africans may have been more overjoyed with their compatriot’s achievement than their own, welling up at the sight of each other on deck.

“I wish I had the words to explain to you how incredible this girl is,” Corbett said of Schoenmaker. “She’s not just a swimmer. She’s one of my biggest supporters and I’m one of hers, 100 percent. She’s just incredible, and to be able to share a moment like this is incredible. … You can’t fathom how amazing this girl is and how she can bounce back from anything the world throws at her. I think I’m emotional because of that.”

The race played out as each of the principal players would’ve wanted. Off the back of her stellar performance in the 100 breast, Schoenmaker knew she had more to give in the 200, her preferred event. She pushed the pace early, confident she’d have power left in reserve.

King was disappointed to find herself behind Schoenmaker and American Lydia Jacoby in the 100 breast, an event she had won in Rio and in which she holds the world record. So she decided to go for broke in the 200 breast – she was 12th in the longer race in Rio – speeding out front and hoping to hang on late. She couldn’t quite match Schoenmaker for pace, but she built a large enough cushion over the field that when back-halfers Lazor and Chikunova rallied, King could fend them off.

King and Schoenmaker shared a glance off the 150-meter wall, their eyes meeting underwater. To King, it signaled she was in a good place for a medal. To Schoenmaker, who knows King’s race plan well, it indicated the gold was hers.

“I thought I did great,” King said. “I saw Tatjana off the 150 wall, we actually kind of glanced at each under the water. I knew it was going to be a tight race, but I saw that we were both pretty far ahead, so I had a good feeling about it.”

“I was like, I mustn’t focus on her, just focus on my own race,” Schoenmaker said. “I knew she probably would’ve lost a few strokes as we’re closing in, and just before we touched, I realized I obviously touched first so I didn’t even look around yet. And when I turned around to see the times, I saw a 2:19 and I thought, ‘that’s a good time,’ and then I realized oh that’s not my time.”

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lilly King (USA) and Annie Lazor (USA) react after placing second and third in the women's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

With Schoenmaker and King more than a second ahead at the final wall, that left just bronze to be sorted. Chikunova was third the whole way while Lazor, as is her wont, built from seventh after the first 50 to tie for third at 1:44.73 at 150 meters. The charge invariably came from both, but Lazor got her hand to the wall first in 2:20.84, with Chikunova off the podium by .04.

“I saw Chikunova on the last wall and I know she closes just like I do so I knew it was going to be a gauntlet to the finish between me and her,” Lazor said. “Obviously I knew going into the race I’d be behind Lilly and Tatjana, who were going to take it out a lot faster than I was. Really just staying in my own lane until that last 50 and then it was all guts from there.”

After the guts came the emotions. Lazor had endured a long road and the death of her father to get to the Olympics for the first time the month she turns 27, training alongside King to reach new heights. She said she thought the big contenders having training partners in the final added a sense of peace.

“If you told me four years ago that I was going to be an Olympic medallist, everyone would have told you that you are crazy,” Lazor said. “Not even my coach or me would have believed it. I am just happy to be here.”

Schoenmaker missed the 2016 Olympics by a tiny margin, a Games to which South African didn’t send a female swimmer. In her native Johannesburg, her extended family, close friends and a group of swim friends slept over at her parents’ house to tune into the final, swum just before 4 a.m. local time.

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) poses with her gold medal after finishing first in the women's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Tatjana Schoenmaker; Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

The women’s delight illustrated not just their closeness but the enormity of Schoenmaker’s achievement. She hadn’t realized until after the medal ceremony that it was the first individual world record of the games, which brought a fresh welling up of emotion. But those in the pool with her did, and they celebrated it as the monumental achievement it was.

“It’s just an incredible swim,” Lazor said. “That world record’s been standing for a little bit too long, I think. So to see someone finally crack 2:19, we’ve all been working towards that I think. To see someone like her to do it, she works so hard and she’s just a great person – that’s what I’m going to know her for, not just the incredible swimmer she is – so just to be there and experience that with someone is something you’ll really never forget.”

“It was exciting because it was such a good race,” Schoenmaker said. “I enjoyed it and it was also amazing that all the girls could celebrate each other’s’ victories. We all came together in the middle and I really hope it stays like that and goes on to other strokes, because it’s so amazing to celebrate with each other and leave the competition in the pool and after the race is done to just be with each other and have fun.”

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

  • World Record: Riike Moller Pedersen, Denmark, 2:19.11 (2013)
  • Olympic Record: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa, 2:19.16 (2021)
  1. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa, 2:18.96
  2. Lilly King, United States, 2:19.92
  3. Annie Lazor, United States, 2:20.84
  4. Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia, 2:20.88
  5. Kaylene Corbett, South Africa, 2:22.06
  6. Molly Renshaw, Great Britain, 2:22.65
  7. Abbie Wood, Great Britain, 2:23.72
  8. Fanny Lecluyse, Belgium, 2:24.57