Tatjana Schoenmaker has been a standout performer in the pool. Photo:Dave Hunt/EPA
Four years ago South African women’s swimming seemed to have stagnated but recent results suggest a new dawn has arrived.

The South African team did not have any women represented at the 2015 World Long-Course Championships or in the pool at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But at this week’s national championships in Durban, four women - Tatjana Schoenmaker, Erin Gallagher, pictured, Kaylene Corbett and Nathania van Niekerk - qualified for the global showpiece in Gwangju, South Korea in July.

The future of female swimming seemed bleak before a generation of young women stepped up to the plate led by Tatjana Schoenmaker and Erin Gallagher.

Schoenmaker ushered in the new dawn at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 where she won the 100-200m breaststroke double gold.

The year before she was the only female swimmer to post an A-qualifying time for the World Championships but instead opted to go to the Student Games.

At this week’s national championships, Schoenmaker made a clean sweep of the breaststroke title, winning gold over the 50, 100 and 200m distances.

She posted qualifying times in the 100m and 200m breaststroke which are Olympic distances.

Gallagher has taken the long and winding road towards finding her breakthrough, making her debut for South Africa at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games as a 15-year-old.

This week she improved on Lize-Mari Retief’s 50m and 100m butterfly national records from 2008. Her 100m butterfly time of 57.67 seconds launched her into eighth place in the world rankings.

She now has four South African marks behind her name, adding to the 50m and 100m freestyle records she posted at last year’s Commonwealth Games.

“I had absolutely no idea I had broken those records and when I was told I was in absolute shock,” Gallagher said.

“It just put a smile on my face; there is nothing more I could have asked for than to break those records.

“I know Lize-Mari Retief was a great swimmer and to be judged against her and to break her records is amazing.”

Gallagher made it into finals at the Commonwealth Games and last year’s World Short-Course Championships in Hangzhou, China, highlighting her rise in the international ranks.

She missed out on a final at the previous World Long-Course Championships and hopes to finally get the monkey off her back and get close to a podium place.

“Hopefully at these world champs will be a better one and I can get into finals in the 100m ‘fly and freestyle,” Gallagher said. “I never thought I'd be in a position where I would be among the top-10 in the world (current rankings).

“Now that I am it just made me realise that I want to be on that podium more than anything. I will do absolutely everything I possibly can to be there especially leading into the 2020 Olympic Games.”

Gallagher, who is mentored by renowned coach Graham Hill, said it was only a matter of time for the resurgence in female swimming in the country to come to fruition.

“Graham always told people that the era of the girls are coming soon and I think it has come through now,” she said. “The four women that have qualified are probably among the oldest in the pool in South Africa but we are still pretty young.”

Van Niekerk has also finally found her breakthrough after she missed qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games by a hundredth of a second.

There are more talented youngsters waiting in the wings including Youth Olympic silver medallist Dune Coetzee and Rebecca Meder.

@ockertde


Sunday Independent

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