Tokyo Olympics

Schoenmaker hopes to inspire more SA female swimmers: 'You just need to believe'

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South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker wins silver at the Tokyo Olympics
South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker wins silver at the Tokyo Olympics
Clive Rose/Getty Images

It's been 21 years since a South African woman has reached a podium position in an Olympic pool.

Out of the 14 medals won in the Olympic pool by Team SA since readmission, only two female swimmers have contributed - Penny Heyns had won three times (two gold in 1996 and a bronze in 2000) and Marianne Kriel once in 1996.

After Heyns' bronze and subsequent retirement in 2000, internationally competitive South African female swimmers have been non-existent as the men dominated on the Olympic circuit.

On Tuesday, Tatjana Schoenmaker finally ended the drought when she claimed a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke final at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

Schoenmaker's win was massive as she not only picked up Team SA's first medal of the Tokyo Olympics, but she became only the second female swimmer to compete in an Olympic final in 21 years.

READ | Schoenmaker hopes Olympic silver brings SA some joy: 'I couldn't give any more'

At the 2016 Rio Games, there was not one female swimmer in the pool (Michelle Weber competed in the 10 km open water event).

At this Olympics, there were more female swimmers (8) than male swimmers (7) in the SA team.

Schoenmaker hopes that her performance can inspire more girls to take up swimming in South Africa following her silver medal triumph.

"I hope I can inspire women's swimming. We're eight girls and hopefully, that shows everyone that you're here to fight and we always challenging the guys and that we'll be one more than them," said Schoenmaker.

"It's a constant challenge between them (and us) and I hope they take on the challenge. I hope that all the guys out there see that if you just pull through and be patient, you just need to believe that God has a plan for you.

"At Rio, we had no girls in the team and this time, we are challenging them. It's amazing to share this experience with the other seven girls and hopefully, we inspire the next [ones] to push through."

Heyns witnessed Schoenmaker's historic moment as she was at the  Tokyo Aquatics Center as a FINA representative,

Schoenmaker was honoured to have an inspiring figure like Heyns close with her.

"The last swimmer to win was Penny Heyns, who is such a big name to try and even come close to, who is so amazing and inspiring," said Schoenmaker.

"We're so lucky to have her a part of our team that she can come to us and say 'good luck' and that we have a close relationship with each other is so special."

Schoenmaker now shifts her attention to the 200m breaststroke heats on Thursday (12:49 SA time).

*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympics for Sport24.

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