Tatjana Schoenmaker: SA's new swimming sensation

Tatjana Schoenmaker (Gallo Images)
Tatjana Schoenmaker (Gallo Images)

Gold Coast - South Africa finally has another female swimmer who can hold her own in the pool.

Tatjana Schoenmaker won South Africa’s fourth gold medal while setting a new record time for Africa in the 200m breaststroke at the Commonwealth Games in Australia on Saturday. Her medal brought South Africa’s total to seven.

Schoenmaker set a time of 2.22.02 and toppled the previous African record, which was set by Suzaan van Biljon in 2012.

Remarkably, Schoenmaker is the first able-bodied female swimmer to win Commonwealth gold since South Africa’s readmission to international sport.

Before Saturday, Paralympic superstar Natalie du Toit - who won seven Commonwealth titles - was the only South African woman to succeed in the sport since 1994.

For the first 150m, Schoenmaker was in a tight battle with England’s Molly Renshaw, but the South African broke loose after the last turn and beat Renshaw by more than a second.

After being the first to touch the wall, the Pretoria-based swimmer looked up at her time and her eyes grew wide.

She said she hadn’t expected to clock such a good time.

“It was a big surprise. It’s really a bonus and more than I could have dreamt of. When I turned around, I was overwhelmed with joy. To get that time and a gold medal in my first Commonwealth is really big,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chad le Clos refused to take his foot off the pedal and won the 200m butterfly race.

Le Clos was in the lead from the start and said he knew he would be victorious after swimming 150m.

He eventually ended with an exceptional time of 1.54.00, more than two seconds faster than Australian silver medal winner David Morgan. Morgan completed the race in 1.56.36.

“I think that was my fastest 150m. It was really painful, but I just wanted to make sure I could win comfortably,” he said.

“In the last 50m, I could hear the crowd making more noise, so I thought someone was catching up to me. That made me quite nervous, but it was all for nothing.”

Before the games, Le Clos dreamt of winning medals in all seven of his races this week, which would have made him the top medal-winner in the history of the Commonwealth Games, with a total of 19.

But after walking away medal-less from two events on Friday, his goal changed.

Now he’s hoping for a unique Commonwealth hat-trick in the butterfly. After Saturday’s triumph, he only needs gold in the 100m butterfly to turn his dream into a reality.

“Nobody has ever won the butterfly hat-trick here, so that’s what I’m dreaming of now. There is no Michael Phelps in the Commonwealth.

“Today (Saturday) was about making history and getting through everything unscathed. I can’t win seven or eight medals anymore and get that record behind my name, but I still want to win as much gold as I can.”

Le Clos has another two individual items left - the final rounds of the 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly. He qualified for the former on Saturday by winning the semi-final with a time of 48.61 seconds. Only Cameron McEvoy - who won the other semi-final with a time of 48.50 - was faster.

Cameron van der Burgh won the seventh Commonwealth medal of his career when he finished third in the final of the 100m breaststroke.

The 2012 Olympic champion set a time of 59.44 and was beaten by England’s James Wilby by only one hundredth of a second. As expected, 23-year-old Adam Peaty won the event easily, setting a Commonwealth record of 58.84.

“I’m very satisfied with it,” said Van der Burgh.

“The way my life is structured these days, my entire focus is no longer on swimming. To still be able to come here and win medals is really wonderful.

“I’m only swimming because I love the sport. I’ll walk away when I no longer enjoy it.”

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