By Karien Jonckheere
GQEBERHA – For the past 10 years Chad le Clos’s name has been top of the results sheet in the 200m butterfly at the SA Swimming Championships.
So the Olympic champion was unlikely to relinquish the title easily. Chasing him all the way on the second night of action at the national championships in Gqeberha, however, was Ethan du Preez – the 17-year-old who upstaged his more fancied rival at a meet in Durban recently.
Le Clos held off his challenger to touch in 1:55.88 with Du Preez second in 1:56.44 – both under the Olympic qualification mark of 1:56.48.
“Whew, I’m under pressure. That was the most stressful race I’ve ever had at nationals. I was very nervous,” admitted Le Clos. “I won the 200 fly in 2010 so it’s been 11 years and I didn’t want that to end tonight… I know how hard Ethan has worked – he’s a great kid and we’ve trained together. He beat me a couple of weeks ago and I don’t like to lose, but I’m delighted for him qualifying.”
Du Preez was thrilled with his efforts on the night. “I feel very excited and happy. I’ve qualified twice now so I feel like I can do this,” he said. “I honestly felt like I could catch Chad at the end – maybe if the pool was a bit longer I would have,” he added with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Erin Gallagher already had two Olympic qualification times in the bag when she arrived in Gqeberha. So the pressure was off as she dived in for the final of the 100m freestyle.
The Durban swimmer didn’t dip under the mark this time but powered to victory in 54.89 to add to the 50m butterfly title she won on the opening night, with the top four swimmers in the freestyle all finishing under 56 seconds.
“It’s absolutely incredible. I don’t think we’ve ever had that before in the history of South African swimming so I’m really looking forward to the women’s relays,” said Gallagher afterwards. “I think we’re going to be a force of nature and I’m super excited to show the world what we’re made of.”
It was another Olympic hopeful, Matt Sates, who claimed the men’s 100m freestyle title, in 49.29 seconds – not a qualifying time, but a personal best.
“The 100 free was my main race so it was more to see if I could do a PB. I think I took a second off my best time so I’m very happy with that. Maybe in the 100m butterfly I can go for the same amount of time off my PB.”