The World Swimming Championships ended on a brilliant note for South Africa on Sunday with Zane Waddell winning the gold medal in the 50m backstroke.
It was the fourth medal for South Africa, after Chad le Clos’ two bronze medals and the silver Tatjana Schoenmaker won at the start of the weekend.
With the word "Ubuntu" proudly displayed on his breast, Waddell beat Russian world record holder Kliment Kolesnikov to the wall for his maiden world title at the biennial event.
Waddell hit the wall in a winning time of 24.43 seconds out touching Russians Evgeny Rylov ( 24.49) in second place and Kolesnikov (24.51) in third.
Although the 50m backstroke is not an Olympic event, it will give Waddell a shot in the arm for the 100m event in the build up to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Waddell’s ascendency to the top step of the podium is the country’s fifth medal in the men’s 50m backstroke at the world championships since Gerhard Zandberg won bronze at Barcelona 2003.
National record-holder Zandberg is the undisputed South African king of the 50m backstroke boasting three world bronze medals and the gold from Melbourne 2007.
Waddell came into the championship buoyed by the World Student Games 50m breaststroke title he won in Napoli, Italy earlier this month. He won four gold and two bronze medals at the 2015 Youth Commonwealth Games.
The championships represented the rise of the next generation of South African swimmers thanks to Waddell and Schoenmaker’s performances.
Schoenmaker became the first South African woman to win a medal at the World Long-Course Championships when she won the 200m breaststroke silver medal. Her race also marked the first time in nearly two decades that two South African women featured in the same final at a major global swimming event with training partner Kaylen Corbett finishing eighth.