Tokyo Olympics

Unsung breaststroke hero Kaylene Corbett rises from Schoenmaker's shadow

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South African swimmer Kaylene Corbett
South African swimmer Kaylene Corbett
Clive Rose/Getty Images

In the midst of Tatjana Schoenmaker's golden success, one cannot dismiss Kaylene Corbett's marvellous effort on her Olympic debut.

Earlier this week, Corbett and Schoenmaker made history as they became the first SA women swimmers to feature in an Olympic final since 2000 when they competed in the women's 200m breaststroke final on Friday.

Since the heats, Corbett has chipped away seconds off her personal best - winning both her heat and semi-final with times of 2:22.48 and 2:22.08.

As Schoenmaker touched the wall in record-breaking time, 22-year-old Corbett swam a personal best of 2:22.06 in the final too.

Despite the PB, Corbett swam over and celebrated with fellow Tuks team-mate Schoenmaker, who went on to win South Africa's first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics.

After her finish, Corbett walked through the press room and was emotional after achieving everything she wanted and more in Japan.

"I just came here to swim a PB and be placed fifth in the whole world is insane. I'm absolutely overjoyed," said a tearful Corbett.

"I knew that I had to be brave and I had a verse stuck in my head that I'm carefully and wonderfully made, and because of that, I can be courageous and brave.

"That was the biggest thing for me, I knew I could just swim my heart out and God would cover me. I felt at peace and he really provided and I can't be more thankful than that."

WATCH | Schoenmaker gets rousing 'Shosholoza' welcome from Team SA at Tokyo Olympic Village  

Coach of the breaststroke duo, Rocco Meiring praised Corbett for her remarkable debut and wasn't surprised by her performance in Tokyo.

"I saw it with Kaylene that she is bringing it together in training. She's two years younger than Tatjana, it's very difficult for me because she's in her shadow and trains with her," Meiring told Sport24.

"I take my hat off to her because she has been one of the swimmers I've coached that has faced the most challenges. She's an incredibly strong young lady and I told her, 'If you continue, your time will come' and I believed it.

"The fact that she did well was fantastic. She wasn't ranked to make a final, let alone a semi-final, but she told me I was going to make the final."

The future is bright for Corbett as she looks to build from her Olympic performance.

"I'm hoping to build from strength to strength. This time puts me in contenders," said Corbett.

"I'm finally down where I want to be, I'm still young so there's time to achieve the goals that I want. 2024 is a huge goal of mine, there's Commonwealth Games and World Champs next year. There's all the things."

Meiring says that there's no rest for Corbett as she looks to secure her place in next year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Corbett is optimistic about the future: "Luckily, it's easier to keep training when you're this inspired."

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

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