JOHANNESBURG - South African female swimming has been stuck in the doldrums for the past four years, but Tatjana Schoenmaker has provided a glimmer of hope.
Schoenmaker narrowly missed out on Olympic qualification in 2016, but earlier this year became the first woman to qualify outright for the Fina World Championships since 2013.
South Africa had no female representation at two major championships, the 2015 World Championships and the Rio Olympics.
Although she opted to miss the global showpiece in Hungary in July, Schoenmaker once again proved her potential when she won silver in the women’s 200m breaststroke at the World Student Games.
The TuksSport swimmer has been making steady progress, constantly improving her personal best times including the 2:24.61 posted for her silver medal at the University Games in August.
“I did not expect to win a medal at the World Students where a lot of Olympic athletes participated at these Games,” Schoenmaker said. “I hoped for a good time and the medal was just a bonus.”
Schoenmaker now has her sights set on the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
She will be looking to qualify for her specialist 100m and 200m breaststroke, and hopes to add the 200m Individual Medley to her repertoire at the Commonwealth trials in Durban from December 16-21.
“Two years ago I was a second off the time I needed to post now to qualify so I want to see if I make it and if I don’t it would have just been for fun,” she said.
“The times are relatively slower (compared to World Championship standards) but it does not necessarily mean to be selected if you do post the time.”
Swimming SA has set slightly more relaxed criteria for the Commonwealth Games where they will consider the top-three finishers in each individual event should they reach the qualifying time.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games was the first time since Kuala Lumpur 1998 that a South African female swimmer failed to win a medal.
Schoenmaker did not want to put any added pressure on herself by getting her hopes up of earning a podium finish in Australia in April next year.
“I would love to swim a personal best again, I can’t really give a time but maybe a 2:23 or 2:22 which is a lot faster than I am swimming at the moment,” Schoenmaker said.
“I’d love to see progress which will be the best for me, if I win a medal it would be massive.”
Schoenmaker’s main goal is to reach her peak at the Tokyo Olympics but is hoping to use major championships such as the Commonwealth Games as crucial experience en route to 2020.
“I still want to climb the international rankings at major competitions and although it still sounds so far away, it is only two years,” Schoenmaker said.
“The Commonwealth Games will be big especially because I haven’t really featured at major events like the World Championships.
“World Students was big for me, but the next step would be to make the finals at the Commonwealth Games.”