Final test for SA swimmers
Johannesburg - The South African swimming team will take to the pool at the International Setti Colli gala in Rome on Saturday as part of their final preparations before next month's Fina World Championships in Shanghai, China.
The recent Mare Nostrum three-leg series in Europe saw the senior swimmers securing 11 of the squad's 14 medals, and the Setti Colli gala will provide them with a final opportunity to fine-tune their form before the global showpiece.
Acting high performance manager of Swimming South Africa (SSA), Dean Price, said despite the positive results in Europe, they were merely looking for the swimmers to gain further international experience in the build-up to the world championships.
"Setti Colli should give us a fair indication of what is happening in terms of injuries, whether they are performing close to their personal best times and against whom they will be competing," Price said.
"The goal is to do as much racing as possible in the European summer season."
Fifteen South Africans will be in action in Rome, with 11 men and four women taking part.
Price said they had seen marked improvements from elite swimmers like Cameron van der Burgh over the last two years, but SSA expected only four or five of their top swimmers to step on the podium in Shanghai.
"I'm not going to lie. We only have a few guys like Gerhard Zandberg, Roland Schoeman and Cameron van der Burgh who are solid medal prospects and in the mix with the best in the world," said Price.
These swimmers did not disappoint in the Mare Nostrum series with Zandberg picking up two medals (gold and bronze), Van der Burgh three (two gold and one silver) and Schoeman three (one gold and two silver).
Price said they also hoped to see how far the team's US based swimmers, including Darian Townsend and Gideon Louw, had come in their preparations.
Van der Burgh is the world leading swimmer in the men's 50m breaststroke with a season's best of 27.24 seconds and is also ranked sixth in the men's 100m breaststroke with a season's best of 1:00.29.
Schoeman, like Van der Burgh, is slowly but surely reaching top form, with his times gradually improving throughout the Mare Nostrum series.
Their season's best times, however, were set at the SA national long course championships in Port Elizabeth in April and they will hope to regain that sort of form at the world championships.
SA record holder and former world champion Zandberg boasts the fourth fastest time in the world (24.90) in the men's 50m backstroke.
Former world short course record holder Kathryn Meaklim was the only senior women's swimmer to medal in Europe this season, taking bronze in the the 200m individual medley in a time of 2:16.46.
Team: Men: Jean Basson, Charl Crous, Chad le Clos, Darren Murray, Riaan Schoeman, Roland Schoeman, Leith Shankland, Cameron van der Burgh, Jasper Venter, Neil Versveld, Gerhard Zandberg. Women: Kathryn Meaklim, Vanessa Mohr, Karin Prinsloo, Suzaan van Biljon.