Tatjana Schoenmaker, right, and sports minister Nathi Mthethwa at OR Tambo airport. Schoenmaker won gold and broke the world record for the Women's 200 meter breastroke at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: SUNDY TIMES/SEBABATSO MOSAMO
Tatjana Schoenmaker, right, and sports minister Nathi Mthethwa at OR Tambo airport. Schoenmaker won gold and broke the world record for the Women's 200 meter breastroke at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: SUNDY TIMES/SEBABATSO MOSAMO

Olympic 200m breaststroke golden girl Tatjana Schoenmaker arrived home on Monday smiling as she emerged from the terminal at OR Tambo International Airport.

The 24-year-old Johannesburg-born swimmer won SA’s first gold meal at the Tokyo Olympic Games in a world record time of 2 min 18.95 sec to beat the previous record of 2:19.11  set by Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen eight years ago.

The University of Pretoria student also won  silver  in the 100m breaststroke.

Schoenmaker was accompanied by her coach Rocco Meiring and was received by sports, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa, Sascoc vice-president Lwandile Simelane and her parents, Rene and Renske.

The swimming sensation said she was glad she could put smiles on South African faces to uplift them during a difficult period in the country.

“I felt like it had not sunk in but now it has after seeing all these people. It just makes the moment really special,” said Schoenmaker. “If my achievement can give that little bit of hope to someone out there during these difficult times, if that is everything I needed to do then I have achieved so much.”

Team SA's Olympics gold medal winner Tatjana Schoenmaker touched down at OR Tambo International Airport on August 2 2021. She was greeting by friends, family and fans who cheered as she walked through the international arrival doors. Schoenmaker says her performance has not sunk in as yet but being back home will give her time to reflect.

Meiring said the swimmer’s achievement is just reward for the work put in over the past five years. He said he has never seen such a dedicated athlete in the three decades he has been coaching.

“I don’t think I’ve ever put anybody through hell like I did with Tatjana in my 30 years of coaching,” said the ecstatic coach. “It has been five years of hell for her and I felt terrible watching her go through that.”

Meiring described his swimming sensation as a soldier of war and said he only had to do so much and that it was Schoenmaker’s talent that eventually saw her through.

“You can coach somebody up to a certain point. She has been blessed by God with exceptional talent and ability.”

Mthethwa showered Tatjana with praise and thanked the swimmer for carrying the hopes of the nation on her shoulders.

“In these troubled times for our nation, you rose to the occasion. The whole of government is congratulating you and the family.”

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