Johannesburg – The FINA World Short Course Championships in Istanbul will serve as a building phase for the South African team when it starts on Wednesday.
Most of the country’s medal hopefuls have been struck by injury, which effectively left an unprepared Chad le Clos to lead the charge in Turkey.
“I’m just going to focus on the 50 metre, the 100m and possibly the 200m butterfly,” the Olympic gold medallist said at the team’s departure on Saturday.
“I've been really sick and was in hospital a few weeks ago so I haven’t had the most ideal preparation but I will still be competitive.”
There was uncertainty whether Le Clos would participate in the 200m butterfly, to defend his title from the 2010 Dubai championships. He would, however, start his campaign in the 100m butterfly on Wednesday.
National swimming coach Graham Hill said the team had suffered a number of set-backs with Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh, and Olympic finalists Suzaan van Biljon and Roland Schoeman withdrawing due to injury.
“The real medal chance is obviously with Chad. With Cameron, Darian (Townsend) and Roland out, it puts us on the back foot,” Hill said.
“With Roland and Darian, our 4x100 free relay had been looking really good with Chad and Shanky (Leith Shankland) there as well. That could have been a good medal shot.”
Hill said the 4 x 200m relay team had also been in for a medal chance as Townsend, Myles Brown, Shankland and Le Clos would have made a formidable quartet.
The SA team consisted mostly of young, up-and-coming swimmers with the majority being female.
“We have to build and move on, that’s what we are going to do... we have some really good youngsters,” Hill said.
“They have to stand up, show us what they are made of and move along from there.”
Rising star, Brown will have his first chance to prove his potential against world class competition.
The youngster had been hailed as one of South Africa’s future stars in the freestyle disciplines.
Brown will make his debut at the World Championships in the men’s 200m freestyle event on Wednesday.
“I’ve put in some big work for this competition, I am looking forward to it,” Brown said.
“I will be racing some big names there like Sun Yang (of China) for example. I can’t wait to learn from them on tour and feed off them and learn some stuff and come back with some good experience.”
Swimming at his first major championship, Brown said it would be a great achievement if he reached a final in Istanbul.
Hill said Swimming SA were working on strengthening the women's squad which had struggled in recent years.
“We’ve got a lot of women on the team and we’ll see how they feature,” he said.
“We’ve struggled since the Penny Heyns era. No-one’s really stood up and delivered for us.”
Olympic swimmer Karin Prinsloo and youngster Jessica Pengelly, based in Australia, had both previously made finals at these championships and would form the pillars of the woman's team. – Sapa