Cameron van der Burgh has achieved a lot in the pool and could be one of South Africa's best ever swimmers. Photo: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
Five years since South Africa’s best performance in the pool at the Olympic Games, swimming is unlikely to benefit from the success of Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh.

South African swimming has been lucky to have two incredibly gifted athletes with the ability to perform over two Olympic cycles.

In Van der Burgh, they have a rare talent that has managed to stay at the top of his game for more than a decade while Le Clos has become South Africa’s most decorated Olympian.

South Africa have relied on Van der Burgh for almost a decade to prop up the medal tally at the World Championships while Le Clos has been a sure bet since 2012. But what will happen if the country can no longer rely on these two stalwarts at major championships?

Their world-class performances created a false sense of security and gave South African swimming a rosy outlook since winning two golds and a silver in London 2012.

South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh reacts after a men's 50-meter breaststroke heat during the swimming competitions of the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. Photo: Michael Sohn/AP Photo


The cracks started forming when we failed to qualify a single female swimmer in the pool at both the 2015 World Championships and last year’s Rio Olympic Games. 

The country's once proud legacy of male freestyle swimmers has almost been wiped out as we battle to find a swimmer other than Le Clos than can swim the 100m freestyle faster than 49 seconds.

It points to a lack of succession planning or foresight to invest and support up-and-coming talent.

Last year backstroker Christopher Reid emerged as a possible future world beater but due to a lack of funding, he could not make the trip from the United States to the South African Championships.

The same applies for splash-and-dasher Brad Tandy, who was South Africa’s only other finalist in Rio.

Tandy did make it to the national championships where he posted a world qualifying time but could not make the trip to the global showpiece.

After years of applying strict qualifying standards for the country’s top swimmers where they are required to meet the criteria at the South African championships, SSA made a few concessions this year for the benefit of development.

One can argue that the years of applying the strict criteria discouraged some swimmers from sticking with the sport.

Breaststroker Tatjana Schoenmaker recently provided a rare silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud for the future of SA swimming. 

She not only became the first female to qualify for the World Championships since 2013 but also won silver in the 200m breaststroke at the World University Games in Taipei.

A cash-strapped SSA will have to start thinking out of the box to support young talents such as Schoenmaker, 2015 Youth Commonwealth Games star Zane Waddell, and Reid to return the sport to buoyancy.

The South African rowing squad led by world renowned coach Roger Barrow should supply them with enough ideas to at least steer it in the right direction. He has proved that a lack of funding is not always an acceptable excuse for a lack of results or inadequate depth.

South African rowing has produced two World Championships medals, qualified an unprecedented five boats into finals at the Rio Olympic Games and a silver medal to boot despite facing virtual bankruptcy in 2013.

While the sports face different challenges a bit of cross-pollination may be what is needed to return swimming to its rightful place as one of the country’s most prestigious sports.


Saturday Star

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