Gold Coast - South Africa rounded off a hugely successful campaign in the pool by adding another two Commonwealth Games medals to their total on Tuesday night.
That took their combined total in the pool to 12, after Chad le Clos had won four individual medals, Tatjana Schoenmaker had claimed two golds, Cameron van der Burgh a gold and bronze and a medal each for Ryan Coetzee, Christian Sadie and Brad Tandy. Le Clos and Van der Burgh were also part of the relay team which took bronze in closing off the swimming programme at these Games.
During the week Le Clos became the most decorated Commonwealth Games swimming medallist and his haul of five took him to 17, one behind Australian shottist Phillip Adams. We will have to wait until Birmingham in 2022 for the South African giant to go past that mark and further into history.
The men’s 4x100m medley relay team, who revamped their team before the evening final, with only Calvyn Justus staying in the quartet, finished third in the dramatic final, won by Australia ahead of England, to sign off in the pool for South Africa with a bronze.
Le Clos, Van der Burgh and Tandy had all come in for the final and they significantly strengthened things as South Africa timed 3min 34.79sec compared to their morning qualifying swim of 3:42.44. It was down in no small part to Le Clos’ split of 50.79 in the butterfly after strong work by Van der Burgh (59.20) in the breaststroke, but the two others played a full part in securing the medal.
"It was my fastest ever split, by a second. This medal and that in the (100m) freestyle are the best two of these Games for me. To swim against the best in the world, that’s what it’s about," Tandy said.
Le Clos, who added the relay bronze to his three butterfly golds and 100m freestyle silver, gave what crucially amounted to a decisive advantage for Tandy to hold on to, as Scotland’s Duncan Brown cut down the distance between the two with every stroke down the home stretch.
However, as a group, the quartet stood as one. Van der Burgh described it as ‘perfect’ and no one could have written a script that saw him beat world record holder Adam Peaty to win the individual 100m breaststroke gold and then sign off with another medal in the last swim of his Commonwealth Games career.
Tandy, collecting the second medal inside a couple of hours, has long been regarded as a sprinter who is destined to win a ‘big one’. There are plenty of experts who reckon he is potentially the finest 50m swimmer on the planet and the 26-year-old confirmed that it’s not all hype when winning the silver medal – and leaving three Australians trailing in his wake at the same time.
The 26-year-old finished sixth in the Rio Olympics in 21.79 and last night touched the wall in 21.81, beaten only by England’s Ben Proud, the Games record holder. Proud won in 21.35 – slower than in his semi-final – but was chased all the way to the wall by Tandy.
"It’s the best result of my life… not the best time but performance-wise maybe top three. There’s one or two special ones that I’ll keep," Tandy said.
He will also keep a Commonwealth Games silver medal, proof that he deserves his spot at the top table of this discipline.
To the naked eye, it was as if Tandy had got off to the perfect start and afterwards the timesheets confirmed that view. His reaction time off the blocks was the fastest in the field (0.57), followed by Proud (0.58) and Australia’s Cameron McEvoy (0.60).
In a race as frenetic as the 50m freestyle, a good start is key to success. As arms and legs turned the pool into a churning mass of water, the green cap of Tandy in lane four looked ahead at halfway, before race favourite Proud caught up.
At that stage, with challengers appearing from all sides, it looked as though the South African might be in danger of slipping out of the medals but then he kicked again and, while Proud powered to the wall, Tandy had reclaimed a clear second spot.
It’s always easier from poolside, so how was it for him?
"I’ve changed my style a lot and I definitely don’t have the best start, so when I come on the breakout I come with a lot of speed and it’s quite hard to maintain that," he said.
"Once I get into my own stroke it kind of stops me and that’s the period for me to work on going forward. In the 50m it all comes down to the final, see who gets a hand on the wall.
"By keeping cool in the prelims and semi-final, it’s a case of keeping nerves under control and handling the pressure."
Other South Africans in action on the last night were Brent Szurdoki, who went into the 1500m freestyle final with a No 4 seeding after an entry time of 15:11.22. Which is where he finished, although admittedly he never looked like being a medal threat.
And the women’s 4x100m team of Nathanie van Niekerk, Kaylene Corbett, Erin Gallagher and Emma Chelius finished seventh in 4:12.02, with Australia breaking the Games record in 3:54.36.