How Tatjana Schoenmaker was motivated by Tuks partner Corbett: 'We celebrate each other's victories'

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South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker
South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker

South African star swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker says she was motivated by her fellow team-mate Kaylene Corbett after she posted a new Olympic record in the women's 200m breaststroke at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Wednesday.

Schoenmaker, who was swimming out of lane 4, touched the wall first in a time of 2:19.16 in her heat to qualify as the fastest swimmer for Thursday's semi-final.

On Tuesday, Schoenmaker won silver in the women's 100m breaststroke and followed up her performance with not only a personal best but an Olympic record as she broke American Rebecca Soni's 2012 record by 0.43 seconds.

Following her win in the heat, Schoenmaker told reporters that she was inspired by Corbett, who earlier had won her heat and also swam a personal best (2:22.48).

Corbett qualified for the semi-finals with the fourth-fastest time in the heats. She will swim in the first semi on Thursday morning (04:54, SA time) while Schoenmaker will swim in the second (05:01). 

"It's amazing. I was a bit nervous coming in from the 100m," said Schoenmaker.

"I think my team-mate who swam two heats in front of me, she swam a two-second PB, and I was thinking that maybe I could do good today too. She definitely made me feel more relaxed going into the 200m. I'm very happy."

Corbett and Schoenmaker train together at Tuks University under coach Rocco Meiring. 

"We train together and sometimes it does get challenging training with your biggest competitor, but we have such a good relationship," said Schoenmaker.

"We're basically sisters in Christ so we're able to put that aside and we're swimming in the purpose of God and that's all that matters. If she wins on the day and I don't, we'll celebrate with each other's victories together."

Schoenmaker says that her main objective heading into the race was to swim a personal best, but admitted that she did not expect to break the Olympic record.

"My goal was to go to try and get as close to my time as possible because in trials I swam a massive PB," said Schoenmaker.

"I was thinking maybe my coach is either screaming because I'm a bit slow, or maybe I'm on that [record] time. I was just trying to get close to it, but I didn't expect that."

At the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the semi-finals and finals are in the morning to accommodate American broadcasters NBC.

The time difference has resulted in swimmers struggling to get going at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, with finals at the Olympics usually in the evening session. 

"Obviously, I'm a bit tired, it is tough coming into the morning and being that awake for the morning," said Schoenmaker.

"I'm definitely going to try my best tomorrow and the day after, hopefully, I can recover because it is challenging getting up into the mornings.

"But now I know I've swam a PB and it's off my shoulders and I can have fun racing the world's best. You want to take in the experience as much as possible.

"It was definitely a good learning curve and I will focus on my own race and not getting caught up in the moment.

"Everyone expects so much coming here and the media definitely hypes it up. I just need to stay focused."

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

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