Durban — Triumph rose from heartbreak on Tuesday, when swimmers Ryan Coetzee and Nathania van Niekerk bounced back from despairing disappointments to secure Commonwealth Games qualification times in Durban.
The duo helped push to 24 the number of swimmers who have achieved the qualifying times set by Swimming SA at these trials for Gold Coast 2018 from April 4-15.
Chad Le Clos secured qualification in his fourth event of this gala, the 100m butterfly,
Erin Gallagher her third as she broke the 55sec barrier in the 100m freestyle for the first time in her career and Tatjana Schoenmaker her second in the 100m breaststroke.
Cameron van der Burgh won his second gold of the gala in the 50m breaststroke, although it does not count as a qualifier because Swimming SA does not recognise non-Olympic events.
But life is different lower down the pecking order.
Coetzee, 22, had missed every major international gala in the past few years, dating back to the last Commonwealth showpiece at Glasgow 2014, and Van Niekerk, 18, failed to reach the Rio Olympics by six-tenths of a second.
"Rio was a really, really big disappointment, I came so close," Van Niekerk said.
"I changed strokes and switched clubs," she recalled.
Focusing on her matric studies this year, she picked up the backstroke again only eight months ago.
With all the international competitions he had missed, Coetzee was the nearly man of SA swimming until Tuesday, having also missed out on Rio.
Even this week he had fallen short of the qualifying marks in other events, and when he got it in the 50m butterfly, it did not count because it is not an Olympic discipline.
The 22-year-old accounting student in Tennessee was faster than Le Clos in the 100m fly morning heats, touching in a 52.57 personal best.
"It’s been a tough four year.… It’s been a little bit of a struggle, a lot of little things needed fixing and it finally happened, it’s a relief," he explained.
In the final, Coetzee pushed Le Clos, a two-time world champion in this event, finishing second in 52.93.
Le Clos won in 52.43 while Daniel Ronaldson, coming back from a lengthy injury, ended third in 53.71 and then wept
Gallagher and Emma Chelius also turned on the waterworks after their qualifying efforts in the 100m freestyle.
"The 100m freestyle is my main event, so there’s always a lot of pressure. I’m really excited to get under 55 too," said Gallagher, who has also been hampered by injuries since 2015.