Young guns target podium places in preparation for Paris
A team of 13 SA swimmers left on Wednesday for the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, looking for their final taste of international competition before the Olympic Games later this year.
Veteran Chad le Clos will compete at his eighth long-course World Championships event in Doha, having collected seven medals at the event during his storied career.
Leading the charge among the younger contingent will be Commonwealth Games champions Lara van Niekerk, Pieter Coetzé and world short-course champion Matt Sates.
Le Clos has entered the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly and could add the 100m freestyle to his events, while Van Niekerk will contest the 50m and 100m breaststroke.
“I have been really happy with the training block over the past few months,” Van Niekerk said. “I have stayed healthy which has been a real win for me, and so I am excited to see how the preparation translates into racing.”
She was SA’s only medallist at the 2022 World Championships where she collected bronze in the 50m breaststroke.
A world championships in February of an Olympic year is unusual, with World Aquatics still catching up on championships missed during the Covid-19 pandemic, but this hasn’t fazed Van Niekerk.
“Although this is very early in the season, we have known about it for a while and so started adjusting after the world championships last year already,” the 20-year-old said.
“I love racing and my coach and I thought it would be great preparation for Paris, and it will help us see what needs to be tweaked leading up to the Games. I would love a podium finish this time but the field is really strong, so I am focusing on my own times and seeing if I can lower my personal bests.”
Fellow Pretoria swimmer Coetzé will compete in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke. The 19-year-old famously qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games when he was just 16 and has his sights set on his second Games in Paris later this year.
He also confirmed that several adjustments had to be made to his training programme to be able to compete at top level in February.
“It is strange, especially close to the Olympics,” he said. “We definitely had to tweak training and take out a lot of rest over the holiday period. But training has been good. I had the flu for a week, but it happens and you have to take it in your stride.
“I saw this as a great opportunity to race at the highest level and make some tweaks before the Olympics. I am aiming to be faster than I was in the past. I don’t really think about the swimmers who I compete against and I will still try my best to get on the podium.”
Sates has entered the 200m and 400m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, and 200m and 400m individual medley. “I will be concentrating on my individual medleys and fly,” Sates said.
Also among those flying the flag for SA in Doha will be Commonwealth Games silver medallist Erin Gallagher, who has entered the 50m and 100m freestyle and 50m and 100m butterfly, and Olympic semifinalist Emma Chelius, who will compete in the 50m freestyle.
The swimming action begins with the morning heats on Sunday and will run until February 18.
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