SA's lead swimmers race to thrilling Olympic times

2008-04-01 00:00

South Africa’s leading swimmers failed to disappoint as they raced to 11 Olympic qualifying times on the opening day of the Telkom National Swimming Championships that got under way at the Kings Park Pool in Durban yesterday.

Only two individual finals were contested last night, the women and men 400m freestyle where Melissa Corfe and Wendy Trott produced the swim of the night and Jean Basson followed with an outstanding performance completely out on his own as they secured their Olympic spots.

But it was the opening race where Lize-Mari Retief set the tone after coming within 0,07sec of the OQT in the women’s 50m freestyle, Clocking a sizzling 25,50sec – Retief at least broke the SA and Africa mark of 25,64sec. She will have another opportunity tonight in the final to get under the 25,43sec QT.

Then the men’s 50m freestyle saw no less than five QT’s as Roland Schoeman retained his top spot with a 22,12sec sprint, but a flying Gideon Louw certainly put the pressure on with a brilliant swim to steal the second position in his first OQT with a 22,24sec.

Lyndon Ferns squeezed in at third spot in 22,28sec and an encouraging 22,29sec personal best from Ryk Neethling argues well for the remainder of the championships. Gerhard Zandberg completed the list of qualifyers in 22,30sec – so tonights final is a race not to be missed.

It was the 400m frrestyle that followed and a fired up Corfe raced ahead of her arch-rival Trott on the first half. As expected, Trott began to make her presence felt as she closed in on the final metres, but this time Corfe was not going to ease up and she went on to one of her best performances ever to clock 4:08,70 to shatter her SA and Africa record of 4:11,66 set in December.

Trott was so close as she achieved her OQT as well in 4:08,88 – both hugging each other afterwards.

“I am so happy I have achieved this time early on in the championships,” said Corfe. “It is a huge relief after so many years of hard work.”

Trott supported this. “We have worked really hard and coming second in an Olympic QT certainly makes up for not winning.”

Not to be outdone, Arizona based Jean Basson gave mentor and coach Peter Williams plenty to smile about as he swam the second half of the 400m freestyle faster than the first half to clock up his first OQT in an amazing time of 3:49,68. Basson has been quietly prepared during his age group years by Williams who as a former world record holder, knows what it takes at this level.

Suzaan van Biljon managed to produce OQT’s in both the heats and semi-final to show it was no fluke that her form is back. She went a 1:08,98 in the morning before slicing a further 0,43sec off the time – and she still has another attempt to go faster in the final tonight.

Cameron van der Burgh was confident in achieving the QT in the semi-final too. He took it out in 28,40sec to end on an outstanding 1:01,25 – also under the QT of 1:01,57. His SA record is 1:01,12 and that should fall tonight.

17-year-old Sebastien Rousseau may well have missed the QT in the 200m butterfly, but he broke his own Africa and SA record by a second to clock a magnificent 1:58,73 - and just needs another 1,06sec faster tonight to get that QT. Out on his own may be tough but he did look as though he could improve a little more.

Other finals tonight that will continue with the standards already set will be the women’s 200m butterfly where veteran Mandy Loots still enjoys the top berth. But she will have her work cut out with Kathryn Meaklim and Keri Shaw breathing down her neck. They are chasing a 2:10,84 and need to inprove a fair bit if they want to keep their Beijing hopes alive.

Corfe was content to cruise a little when she took to the water for the 200m backstroke, but a great dual developed between Jessica Pengelly and Clare Archibald in the second semi-final. So with Archibald also improving substantially, achieving the 2:12,73 QT looks more of a reality.

25-year-old George du Rand looked set to ahieve his QT of 1:59,72 in the mens 200m backstroke as he stroked well ahead in the first semi-final. The SA record holder at 1:58,81 was marginally slower with a 2:00,73 and he must now pull out all the stops to ensure he uses his best chance for a QT to his best advantage.

For City fans, Olympic gold medallist Darian Townsend arrived safely in Durban yesterday after missing his flight due to security delays in the USA. He tackles the 200m freestyle heats and semi-final today.

The only other event on the programme this morning is the women’s 800m freestyle.

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