A closer look at SA’s new swimming sensation

After getting off to an explosive start commonwealth gamesteenager Lara van Niekerk will be aiming for gold when she lines up alongside compatriots Tatjana Schoenmaker and Kaylene Corbett in the 50m breaststroke final in Birmingham on Saturday night (8:12 p.m. SA time).

READ ALSO : Lara van Niekerk wears record form in Games final

Despite being just 19, Van Niekerk is no rookie and her performances this week were hardly surprising after her rapid rise over the past year.

We take a closer look at the country’s latest swimming sensation.

record holder

Van Niekerk’s record-breaking exploits haven’t started this week.

Last season she broke the African short course 50m breaststroke record, touching the wall in 29.85 at the SA Short Course Championships in Pietermaritzburg, and she went on to set a new continental mark in the 50m long course of 29.88 at the Northern Tigers Championships. in Pretoria in December.

At the Gqeberha National Championships in April, she broke her own long course record, stopping the clock at 29.72.

Superb upheavals

Van Niekerk’s gold medals in the 50m and 100m at this year’s national championships were made all the more impressive by the quality of the opposition she beat.

In the 50m final, she clocked 30.60 to finish 0.27 ahead of 200m world record holder breaststroke Schoenmaker, who is a long distance specialist but remains sharp in the sprint event .

Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lara van Niekerk
Lara van Niekerk (right) and 200m breaststroke world record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker. Photo: Getty Images

In the 100m final in Gqeberha, she beat Schoenmaker again (this time by 0.39), setting a personal best of 1:05.67.

At the Commonwealth Games, she proved it was no fluke, qualifying faster than Schoenmaker and Olympic 200m finalist Corbett for the sprint final this weekend.

World class

The first South African woman to break 30 seconds in the 50m breaststroke, Van Niekerk’s most recent national record saw her climb the all-time world rankings earlier this year.

Her time of 29.72 was just 0.42 off the world record held by Italian swimmer Benedetta Pilato, and only five women have ever been faster than the South African prodigy.

In Birmingham this week, she once again showed her top-flight potential by beating the Commonwealth Games record in heats (29.82) and semi-finals (29.80).

Pursuit Medals

Although relatively new to the senior ranks, Van Niekerk is already a proven champion.
She won five medals (including four gold) at the 2017 African Junior Championships in Cairo, aged 13, and the following year she won four gold medals at the African Championships in Algiers, competing against senior opponents.

At the World Aquatic Championships in Budapest earlier this month, she again showed off her impressive BMT in get the bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke final.

Looking well into the early stages of her Commonwealth Games campaign, she looks set to add to her international medal tally at the six-day gala in Birmingham.