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Teenager Lara van Niekerk dethroned Tatjana Schoenmaker as the Commonwealth Games 100m breaststroke champion on Tuesday night, but the duo still gave SA a historic golden-silver feast in Birmingham.
Van Niekerk, the 50m breaststroke champion, was the first into the wall, and the question was whether she would have the endurance to hold off Olympic queen Schoenmaker, the 200m breaststroke champion, on the second lap.
But she torpedoed across the pool to touch first in a 1 min 05.47 sec personal best. Schoenmaker, owner of the 1:04.82 Olympic record, was second in 1:06.68.
Australian Chelsea Hodges was third in 1:07.05 and the third SA swimmer in the race, Kaylene Corbett, was seventh.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Van Niekerk’s triumph is that she now joins an elite group of SA swimmers to have won two golds at a single Games — Schoenmaker, Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh and Roland Schoeman.
All of them went on to win multiple Olympic medals.
Her win also gave SA a clean-sweep of gold in the three women’s breaststroke events, with Schoenmaker winning the 200m and Van Niekerk taking the 50m.
Of the nine medals across the three events, SA pocketed five — one in the 50m, two in the 200m and now two in the 100m.
Australia got three and England one.
This was the first time since Vancouver 1954 that SA swimmers landed a gold-silver finish at the Games, when Graham Johnston and Peter Duncan finished one and two in the men’s 1,500m freestyle.
Gold-silver for SA was achieved in track and field at Gold Coast 2018, in the men’s 100m, and it was done twice at the 1912 Olympics, in the men’s marathon and men’s single tennis competition.
Pieter Coetzé took bronze in the men’s 200m backstroke for his third medal of the gala, to add to his 100m gold and 50m silver.
Like Van Niekerk, he is part of SA’s exciting new generation of swimmers.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.