Tokyo Olympics

Schoenmaker, top of the world, reflects on lows of Rio 2016 disappointment

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South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker and Kaylene Corbett with America's Lily King and Annie Lazor
South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker and Kaylene Corbett with America's Lily King and Annie Lazor

South African Olympic gold medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker admits she was determined to prove herself at this year's Tokyo Olympics after missing out on the Rio Games five years ago.

On Friday, Schoenmaker overcame all odds to claim a Olympic gold in the women's 200m breaststroke final and set a world record.

READ | Sparkling Schoenmaker stands tall as SA's new Olympic conqueror: 'It just doesn't seem real'

In 2016, a then 19-year-old Schoenmaker failed to make the Rio Olympics squad after missing out on qualification for the 200m breaststroke by one-hundredth of a second.

Speaking after her stunning swim on Friday, Schoenmaker revealed that she had doubts over whether to continue swimming professionally after the disappointment of missing out on Olympic qualification in 2016.

"2016 was a bit of disappointment because I missed it by a [hundredth of a] second. It sucked, but I knew everything happens for a reason," said Schoenmaker.

"I wasn't ready at that time.

"We got our hopes up and then I kind of got a dip, creating all that expectation. My fall was quite big, and I had to try and fall in love with the sport again."

There was a lot of expectation for Schoenmaker on Friday having clinched SA's first medal on Tuesday by winning silver in the 100m breaststroke.

The 200m is Schoenmaker's preferred event and after swimming an Olympic record of 2:19.16 in the heats on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was destined to reach the podium.

"I put my phone aside (before the race), and obviously there's been lots of positive messages of good luck. The more you read them, the more excited you get and the bigger the expectation you create for yourself," she said.

"I went to bed last night without thinking of the race. I had an amazing night's sleep and had peace with whatever happens in the final. I could give it my all. It wasn't in my control."

Schoenmaker shattered the long-standing 2013 world record set by Denmark's Rikke Moller Pedersen to finish in a sensational time of 2:18.95.

She is still coming to grips with her performance.

"It's so weird to be here ... it hasn't sunk in. If it did, I'd be a lot more emotional."

After realising she had broken the world record, Schoenmaker was surrounded by fellow countrywoman Kaylene Corbett (who finished fifth in 2:22.06), silver medallist Lily King and bronze winner Annie Lazor.

"It was a good race and it was amazing that all the girls could celebrate their victories and it was such a special moment," said Schoenmaker.

"It's so amazing to celebrate with each other and leave the competition for the pool after the race is done and have fun with each other."

Schoenmaker will be in action later on Friday (13:57 SA time) in the women's 4x100m relay.

But when asked what's the first thing she'll do when she gets back home, she said: "It's maybe too cold to braai, but I just want to give my parents a hug."

*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympic Games for Sport24

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