High hopes for SA swimmers
Johannesburg - The South African swimming team jetted off to Barcelona on Monday for the Fina World Swimming Championships with expectations of a greater medal haul than in the previous showpiece in Shanghai in 2011.
Swimming South Africa (SSA) head coach Graham Hill, however, emphasised that their success would not only be measured by an improved medal count.
“I’ve got three years to build a team for Rio (2016 Olympic Games) and we need to get swimmers out there to get the experience to swim in the big competitions,” Hill said ahead of the championships that will start on Sunday.
“So we decided to pick a team that would give us some youth in the team and give the ones that we feel may have a chance in 2016 a chance to go and gain some experience.”
South Africa returned from the previous edition with three bronze medals courtesy of Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh's efforts in the 50m and 100m breaststroke, and Gerhard Zanderg's third place in the 50m backstroke.
The team is expected to win more medals. However, all that glitters is not gold as the silverware is likely to come predominantly from non-Olympic events.
Van der Burgh and double-Olympic medallist Chad le Clos will lead South Afica’s charge in the Olympic events with both swimmers regarded as favourites in their respective events.
Le Clos will for the first time gauge whether he can become the dominant force in the butterfly events following the retirement of the United States’ Olympic legend Michael Phelps.
The 21-year-old will be the hunted rather than the hunter in the 100m and 200m butterfly – the events that saw him win silver and gold respectively at the London Olympics.
Swimming South Africa (ASA) this year indicated that Olympic glory would from now on be viewed as first prize, while medals in non-Olympic events were an added bonus.
Hill said because the team had a youthful appearance they would lean heavily on the seasoned campaigners to win medals.
“We are going out there with some experienced swimmers, obviously with the likes of Cameron, Chad, Roland Schoeman and Gerhard and we will look at them to win medals,” he said.
“The rest of the swimmers we are hoping they get out there and swim to the best of their abilities – we don’t expect them to bring us medals.
“But we want them to step-up and swim their best results in that environment so that we can see whether they can swim under that kind of pressure.”
At age 33, Schoeman is the oldest member of the team, but has shown age-defying form this season and will be a force to be reckoned with in the 50m butterfly and freestyle.
He will be joined by another veteran in Zandberg, who will be aiming for his fifth medal from as many world championships in the 50m backstroke.