JOHANNESBURG – Olympic legend Penny Heyns is encouraged by the state of female South African swimming, spearheaded by breaststroke specialist Tatjana Schoenmaker.
Schoenmaker erased the last of Heyns’ national records at the recent SA Short-Course Championships in Durban when she posted a new 50m breaststroke national mark.
The Pretoria-based Schoenmaker raced to the 100-200m breaststroke double gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games setting national records in both events while also lowering the national mark in the 50m event.
Schoenmaker broke Heyns’ 50m and 100m long-course marks before breaking the icon’s longest-standing South African record in the 50m in the 25-metre pool.
Speaking at a women in sports breakfast at SuperSport Park hosted by Sports Minister Thokozile Xasa yesterday, Heyns said she believes Schoenmaker has the potential to step onto the podium at the Olympics and World Championships.
“She has improved a lot over the last year and that is great. If she continues improving at the same rate, I have no doubt we are looking at medals,” Heyns said. “Anything is possible, I think Tatjana can continue improving, she needs to compete as much as possible which in general in South Africa we don’t always have the opportunity.”
Schoenmaker’s 200m breaststroke national record of 2:22.02 would have been good enough for a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and silver at the 2015 World Championships.
While she has wiped Heyns from the record books, Schoenmaker still has a lot to accomplish to get close to Heyns’ legacy.
Heyns is still the only woman in history to win both the 100m and 200m breaststroke gold medals at the Olympics following her incredible double at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Right now I think she is ranked fourth in the world in the 200m breaststroke and for a medal at the Olympics I think you might sneak in with a 2:21 but I would expect world records are going to fall,” Heyns said.
“So I think she would have to take two seconds off which I think is realistic, she is a great girl, she is humble and I like that about her. Not all our female athletes are humble enough in my opinion.”
Before Schoenmaker’s golden double performance in Australia, South African female swimming had been stuck in the doldrums.
South Africa had failed to qualify female swimmers in the pool at the 2015 World Championships and the Rio Olympics.
Teenager swimmer Rebecca Meder is considered one of the hot prospects while Durban-based swimmer Erin Gallagher seems to be coming into her own.
“I think Tatjana has quite strong BMT which is important and if I look at our girls over the past few years that is an area we need to work on.
“Patriarchal attitudes within certain areas of the swimming fraternity hasn’t helped per se but I believe we have a lot of young talented swimmers and we will have to create a system and we are busy with that.
“There are some exciting things on the horizon, we have the potential that we need to develop, we just need to make sure the systems we have in place look after the girls.”