SA celebrates golden morning in Tokyo
For immediate release
Tokyo, Friday, 30th July 2021 – Bleary-eyed South Africans celebrated the country’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics as Tatjana Schoenmaker powered to victory in the 200m breaststroke in a World Record time early this morning.
The Pretoria swimmer, who already collected silver in the 100m breaststroke, became the first woman in history to dip below the 2 minute 19 mark by touching the wall in a sensationally quick 2:18.95 for the gold.
Americans Lilly King and Annie Lazor took the silver and bronze with another South African, Schoenmaker’s training partner Kaylene Corbett, fifth in a personal best time of 2:22.06.
“It’s amazing! It still feels so unreal,” said a thrilled Schoenmaker afterwards.
“I didn’t expect that at all. The 2.19 was already so incredibly fast. I mean it’s a world record that’s been standing for so long, it’s amazing.
“To be honest, to make the final is already an amazing achievement. It’s my first Olympics so for me to get a lane into the final, then everyone stands a chance. God has exceeded all my expectations so I could not be happier.”
Corbett was thrilled with her own performance and also full of praise for her compatriot.
“Like I said right from the beginning, I just came here to swim a PB and to place fifth in the whole world, is just insane. I’m absolutely overjoyed, I can’t believe it,” she said afterwards.
“Tatjana is incredible. I wish I could explain to people how incredible this girl is. To watch her race and swim that well is a dream come true for me and it inspires everyone back home as well. A lot of our teammates are extremely inspired after that swim and everything else that she’s accomplished in this last week,” she added.
Later in the day, Emma Chelius set a new SA record of 24.65 in the 50m freestyle, finishing in a tie for second in her heat which was won in an Olympic record time of 24.02 by Australia’s four-time medallist at these Games, Emma McKeon.
“I definitely think those girls pushed me. Seeing the big names on the line-up was so exciting for me because I’ve watched these girls compete on TV and followed their journeys on social media and so to now be racing against them is a dream come true. I think the nerves definitely pushed me to swim as fast as possible,” said Chelius afterwards.
“I was really hoping to improve on my time from Olympic trials but obviously I was quite nervous going in so to pull that off, I’m really happy and relieved.
Chelius said she is determined to break Egyptian Farida Ousman’s continental record in the semifinals on Saturday.
“I would love to get that back to South African soil so let’s hope in the semifinals I can pull that out the bag,” she said, adding her thought on Schoenmaker’s gold earlier in the day.
“That was such an inspiration. We’re all sharing an apartment here in Tokyo so it’s just been the most amazing energy and I’m so proud of them. SA women are definitely on the rise so it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”
Also in action on Friday was 2016 Olympic finalist Brad Tandy, who finished sixth in his 50m freestyle heat in 22.22 and missed out on a semi-final spot.
Over in the diving pool, South Africa’s two representatives, Julia Vincent and Micaela Bouter, finished 25th and 26th respectively in the 3m platform preliminaries and also didn’t progress.
“That was a tough one… a tough day at the pool I guess,” admitted Vincent, who couldn’t hold back the tears. “It’s just disappointing because my training leading into this was a lot better and that’s the pain of our sport. Sometimes you just have a bad day but that’s ok we’re still here and I’m blessed to be here.
“I wanted to be top 12 but not today… I don’t think I’m done yet, especially based on this performance. I’ll definitely be getting back to work but that will be after a bit of time off.”
Adding her thoughts on Schoenmaker’s gold, Vincent said: “It was so inspiring. I was so caught up with that – I don’t know her that well, but I was just so proud of her. Yesterday our South African surfer [Bianca Buitendag] said: ‘Nothing can stop a South African on a mission’ and it was just beautiful to watch Tatjana do that today.”
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