Durban swimmer Neil Versfeld, who is based in the US, warms up at Kings Park before the Olympic trials. Picture: Abhi Indrarajan

South Africa had a “great chance” of taking podium positions for aquatic events at the Olympic Games in London in July, double gold medalist Penny Heyns said on Sunday

The swimming great, who took in her medal haul in the 1996 Olympic Games, spoke to reporters at a warm-up event in Durban before the SA National Aquatic Championships, doubling as official Olympic trials, which started on Monday.

“We have a great chance of winning medals this year – even other countries are aware of what great swimmers we’ve produced over the years,” said Heyns.

She said she would be in a better position to speculate on those who might take medals in their respective events after the trials end on Sunday.

Heyns will keep an eye on the breaststroke swimmers.

She said that when young athletes arrived at the Olympic Village, they often saw people they admired and looked up to.

This, she said, caused them to lose focus.

Her tip for up-and-coming aquatic stars: “Don’t get caught up in the hype. Enjoy it but don’t forget why you’re there. Think of the Games as just another meet.”

Swimmers took to the water at Kings Park Aquatics Centre one last time on Sunday before Monday’s championship event.

“I’m pretty excited. I feel like I’ve put in all the hard work and that’s making me feel more confident,” said Durban swimmer Kathryn Meaklim.

Meaklim had already qualified with a time of 4:39.98 in the 400m individual medley at the British Gas Championships in March.

She said she and her family had visited London to look at the facilities in place for the Olympic Games.

“It’s absolutely awesome. I really can’t wait,” said the Kloof-based swimmer.

She said she had begun to taper down her training, but her fitness regime encompassed hours of land- and water-based training every week.

Also having already qualified was Chad le Clos, who managed a time of 52.17 seconds in the 100m butterfly at the All Africa Games; a 1:55.07 in the 200m butterfly during the Fina World Championships and a 4:14.93 in the 400m individual medley at the SA International Invitation Meet.

“I’m using this time to mentally prepare myself. I’m not nervous about the racing; I’ve done the work,” he said on Friday.

He said he would be resting as much as possible to build up his energy levels when taking to the water this week.

Sebastien Rousseau, originally from Cape Town but based in the US, was very relaxed and trying not to think about the trials.

“I actually flew back to SA on April 6 and was in Cape Town until Wednesday. I’ve just been enjoying Durban since then,” he said.

He echoed Meaklim’s sentiments, saying that he knew that he had done all the work, so he was looking forward to the competition.

“I’m also really excited to be back home and I hope I’ll be able to compete for the country,” he said.

Other US-based swimmers – Neil Versfeld, John Ellis and Gideon Louw – said they were hoping for a good outcome.

“It’s always important to visualise the race ahead. Trust that your body’s been conditioned and all your equipment is there, and just do it,” said Louw.

Versfeld and Ellis were excited about being back home.

Fourth-time participant in the qualifiers and gold medal winner at the 2004 Olympics Roland Schoeman, was modest about his achievements and said he was thankful for the opportunity to try to make the grade.

“My advice for those swimming for the first time is to just believe. Even though I’ve competed in three Olympic Games and so many other competitions, I still get nervous,” said the Arizona-based swimmer


He won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens in the 4×100m freestyle relay, a silver medal in the 100m freestyle event and a bronze in the 50m freestyle. - Daily News


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