Johannesburg – A combination of faith, fate and hard work elevated Karin Prinsloo’s status to South Africa's queen of the pool following stellar performances at the Aquatics Super Series in Perth over the weekend.
The 24-year-old has long been crowned women's champion in South African waters but for all her success on home soil she could not quite translate it into international glory.
In Perth, she was the standout swimmer for her country – winning five medals and setting three national records – despite being in the company of Olympic gold medallist Chad le Clos.
Prinsloo was still deep in pre-season training before the gala, while also making a technical adjustment to her freestyle stroke during a rehabilitation phase.
“Last year I was injured and I was in rehab for six weeks where I could not kick,” Prinsloo said on Tuesday.
“With my freestyle stroke, I always used to drop my elbow, so I did not have the power to pull myself through the water.
“In those six weeks it was something I really concentrated on and I managed to pull myself through the water.”
A painful break-up with her boyfriend over December also resulted in the swimmer shedding excess weight which ultimately made her lighter in the water.
On the first day of the Perth meet, Prinsloo finished third in the 100m freestyle in 54.48 seconds, breaking her own South African record by 0.49 seconds.
It was her performance in the 400m freestyle, however, which would please her the most.
The London Olympian finished second in the race, smashing Wendy Trott's 400m freestyle record of 4:08.38 by posting a time of 4:07.92 and improving her personal best.
“I dropped almost five seconds off my personal best in the 400m and it was the first time I swam internationally in that event.
“I knew it was going to be a fun gala and because I was swimming in such an event I did not really have any pressure on me.
“I also did not expect to do well in every event because I swam so many of them.”
On the second day of the gala, she posted a time of 1:57.41 and broke her previous national mark of 1:58.53, adding the 200m freestyle gold medal to her tally.
Success has not always come easy for the Pretoria-based swimmer, citing the overwhelming pressure of performing on the international stage for her perceived failures.
At the 2012 London Olympics, a clearly emotional Prinsloo made it into the semi-finals of the 200m backstroke, while she crashed out in her heat of the 200m freestyle.
“Before my events at the Olympics I was very emotional and I was scared because the pressure was just too much for me,” she said.
“Igor (Omeltchenko, her coach) always says that he knows what I am capable of, but it somehow does not work out for me because I am not good at handling the pressure, so I have to learn to chill.”
Prinsloo said she would speak to Omeltchenko about her approach to her program before major meetings as she believed being in hard training also gave her the confidence she needed.
“I've always felt that I have more confidence and I am stronger in the water when I am doing hard training,” she said.
“I like the fact that we did not taper – only the week in Australia we swam less – like we would before galas like the nationals.”
While Prinsloo proved against top-class opponents that she was ready to take on the world in the freestyle events, she still had confidence in her backstroke events.
She believed she had great potential in the backstroke but because she put more effort into the freestyle stroke, with less impetus on the backstroke, she did not improve at a desired rate.
“I am more positive about my backstroke because there is still a lot I can work on,” Prinsloo said.
“I believe my talent lies in the backstroke but I work harder at the freestyle that is why I am doing so well.”
Prinsloo said she would have to reassess her strategy and possibly tone down the amount of events in which she participated.
Her performance in the 400m freestyle suggested she was more adept at longer distance events instead of the sprints and she would consider swimming the 800m freestyle.
Her focus would not turn towards qualifying for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games later this year where she hoped to qualify for as many individual events as possible. – Sapa