Skip to content
Jun 29 22

Sharron Davies hits out at Tom Daley’s transgender comments – ‘This doesn’t affect him’

by ZwemZa

Former Olympic athlete Sharron Davies has criticised Tom Daley. (PA)

Sharron Davies has dismissed Tom Daley’s criticism of the decision to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s swimming events.

Former Olympic swimmer Davies welcomed the world governing body FINA’s announcement which stated anyone who had gone through male puberty would not be allowed to compete in women’s categories.

British Olympic diver Daley said he was “furious” at the decision and transgender athletes should not be stopped from doing “something they love just because of who they are.”

Davies, who has led a vocal campaign against transgender athletes being able to compete in women’s sports, hit out at those comments.

Davies told GB News’ Dan Wootton Tonight: “What I would say is Tom is male and this doesn’t affect him in the slightest, it doesn’t affect males in the slightest.

“Transgender men, biological females who actually happen to carry on competing in the women’s category because they wouldn’t stand a chance to compete in the men’s category.

“They don’t cause any risk to men’s sport whatsoever, so I think we have to listen to the women and FINA were the first governing body since 2015 to actually poll their female athletes and actually to listen to their coaches.”

Daley initially told reporters at the British LGBT Awards on Friday that FINA’s decision was “not on”.

He later added in an interview with iNews: “I was furious.

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not on.

“It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Boris Johnson said he supported FINA’s decision when asked during a trip to Rwanda on the weekend.

He said: “I haven’t studied it in detail but I see no reason to dissent.”

The prime minister was also asked if a woman can be born with a penis, amid a debate in some quarters about anatomy and gender.

“Not without being a man, that’s my view about that,” he replied.

FINA announced the decision on 19 June after an extraordinary congress in Budapest, adding that it will look to set up an open competition category in which athletes can compete irrespective of their sex or gender identity.

The move means Lia Thomas, who in March became the first transgender swimmer to win a major US national college title, will be ineligible to compete in the women’s category with immediate effect.

Female-to-male transgender athletes will be eligible to compete in male categories, but in the sports of high diving and water polo they will be required to submit an ‘assumption of risk’ form, and are advised to seek advice on their physical capability.

FINA’s announcement came two weeks after cycling’s governing body, the UCI, voted to double the period of time before a rider transitioning from male to female can compete.

By

Jun 26 22

Van Niekerk claims SA’s first world champs medal

by ZwemZa

Lara van Niekerk and Coach Eugene da Ponte (Supplied)

Lara van Niekerk ensured South Africa’s proud record in the World Championships pool continued by bagging a bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke on Saturday night.

Competing in her first major event at senior level, the 19-year-old came up against world record-holder Benedetta Pilato and 2013 world champion Ruta Meilutyte in the final.

Van Niekerk swam 29.90 to take the bronze, with Meilutyte taking gold for Lithuania in 29.70 and Pinato the silver for Italy in 29.80.

Van Niekerk’s performance means South Africa have claimed a medal at every long course World Championships since Roland Schoeman’s solitary bronze in the 50m freestyle at the 2001 event.

“Surprisingly I wasn’t that nervous. I thought I would be way more freaked out than I was,” admitted the talented teenager. “I was actually very calm and just focused on what I had to do and how I had to execute the race, so I think that was a really good thing – learning how to manage the nerves.

“I’m so happy. My first senior world champs and winning a medal, I think it’s a bonus,” she added.

The last time Van Niekerk competed at a world championships in Budapest was the junior edition as a 16-year-old back in 2019 where she finished just off the podium in fourth, with a then 14-year-old Pilato taking the gold.

Asked about her progress since then, Van Niekerk reckoned: “I’m definitely happy with the improvement. If you look at my time at junior worlds, it’s a two-second difference. I’m just happy to be improving, it’s a good sign.”

Meanwhile, Van Niekerk’s coach, Eugene da Ponte was thrilled with the medal, particularly with an eye on the next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“That was half the reason we decided to come here, to deal with the more high-pressure situation so that when we get to Commonwealth Games, we can really focus and try to swim really fast. This was more for experience and that’s going to be for trying to get the times we really want. I’m looking forward to it. I know Lara is too.”

By Karien Jonckheere for Swimming South Africa

Jun 26 22

American Ress wins 50m backstroke gold after review, McIntosh takes 400m medley

by ZwemZa

Swimming – FINA World Championships – Duna Arena, Budapest, Hungary – June 25, 2022 Hunter Armstrong of the U.S. in action during the men’s 50m backstroke final REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

American Justin Ress won gold in the 50m backstroke in dramatic circumstances at the world championships in Budapest on Saturday after officials overturned his initial disqualification following a lengthy review.

Victory was earlier awarded to compatriot Hunter Armstrong after it was ruled that no part of Ress’s body was above the water as he reached first for the wall.

Ress, who had set the pace in the heats and the semi-finals, was later reinstated as the winner and the medal ceremony held again, with Armstrong taking silver and Polish teenager Ksawery Masiuk having to settle for bronze.

Canadian Summer McIntosh continued her superb run in the Hungarian capital after the 15-year-old beat fellow teen Katie Grimes of the United States to collect the 400m medley title. U.S. swimmer Emma Weyant came a distant third.

“It’s really cool to race someone like Katie as she is around my age and she’s a really tough competitor,” said McIntosh. “So I’m looking forward to racing her and keep pushing myself.”

Gregorio Paltrinieri, gold medallist at the Rio Olympics, set a new championship record in the 1,500m freestyle, comfortably finishing ahead of Robert Finke and Florian Wellbrock in a time of 14:32.80.

The Italian looked on course to break Sun Yang’s world record of 14:31.02 but faded in the last 100 metres.

“So many people thought I was finished. I am not a person who lets himself be influenced by others but in these days I had enough doubts,” Paltrinieri, 27, told reporters.

“Then I said ‘no’ and I felt stronger but I had to prove it in the race… I was in lane one, I felt the whole arena on me, but I didn’t think so much. And time was not the priority today – today I dived in with the will to win.”

Swede Sarah Sjostrom added the 50m freestyle crown to her remarkable list of victories as she claimed a 19th individual medal at the world championships, edging out Katarzyna Wasick and Meg Harris.

In the team events, Italy prevailed over the U.S. by 0.28 seconds in the men’s 4x100m medley relay while Britain were almost four seconds back in third.

The Americans, however, came out on top in the women’s event as the quartet of Regan Smith, Lilly King, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan proved too strong for silver medallists Australia and third-placed Canada.

“We take a lot of pride in that relay and really wanted to put in a good time and get that gold back from last summer (Olympic Games). We came out and did that, and it was a great race,” said Curzan, who anchored the U.S. home.

Jun 26 22

Lara van Niekerk saves SA swimming team’s blushes with late medal

by ZwemZa

Lara van Niekerk on the podium at the Fina World Championships. Picture: Getty Images

Junior sensation Lara van Niekerk ended South Africa’s drought at the Fina World Championships in Budapest on Saturday night, grabbing the national team’s first medal after eight days of competition in the pool.

The 19-year-old breaststroke specialist touched the wall third in the women’s 50m final, taking bronze in the sprint event in 29.90 seconds.

Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania won gold in 29.70 and world record holder Benedetta Pilato earned silver in 29.80.

Had Van Niekerk missed out on the podium, it would have been the first time in 22 years that South African swimmers had failed to secure a medal at the World Championships.

“I’m so happy. My first senior world champs and winning a medal, I think it’s a bonus,” Van Niekerk said.

The Fina World Championships, which also includes diving, artistic swimming, water polo and open water swimming, will come to a close on Thursday.

By Wesley Botton | The Citizen

Jun 25 22

Canadian swimmers enjoying best ever world championships

by ZwemZa

Gold medalist Summer McIntosh of Canada poses with her medal after the Women 200m Butterfly final at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Canadian swimmers are enjoying their most successful world swimming championships ever in Budapest this week.

Golds for the remarkable Summer McIntosh and Kylie Masse are the prize jewels in a nine-medal haul for Canada so far. Only the Americans and Australians have claimed more ahead of the final day of racing at Duna Arena on Saturday.

“It feels good,” Josh Liendo said of Canadian swimmers eclipsing eight medals at the 2019 worlds, and already a marked improvement on four at the previous worlds in Budapest in 2017.

Liendo was responsible for Canada’s eighth medal this week with bronze in the men’s 100 meters butterfly on Friday. Then he helped gain the team’s ninth with silver in the mixed 4×100 freestyle relay.

“We’re building some momentum here and looking forward to next year and then 2024,” Liendo said, referring to the Paris Olympics. “We’re going to have a really good team. So it’s exciting.”

The 19-year-old Liendo also clocked a Canadian record 21.61 in the men’s 50 freestyle on Friday.

Canadian success in the pool is not a lucky accident.

The team’s high-performance director, John Atkinson, told The Associated Press this week that it was down to targeting specific events, finding new ways to identify talent, and being patient.

“That’s kind of the key – let it grow and be patient with it,” Atkinson said after McIntosh and Masse won golds on Wednesday. “It’s about performing now with those that can, and it’s about a production line of those for the future.”

Appearing at her first major event, the 15-year-old McIntosh won the women’s 200 butterfly, clocking 2:05.20 for a national record, world junior record and the fastest time this year.

“This is the start of people getting to know who she is. And she’s got some more races this week,” said Atkinson, who praised her coach, Ryan Mallette, for helping her become Canada’s youngest world champion.

“We first identified Summer when she was 12 years old, swimming in our world trials in 2019,” Atkinson said. “Worked with her coach at the time from her club program, Etobicoke, then she transitioned into a high-performance center two years ago. So a very driven, organized young woman who swims a wide range of events.”

McIntosh also set a world junior record with her relay split in the women’s 4×200 freestyle final, where Kayla Sanchez, Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak also pushed the team to bronze.

While McIntosh is the new star, Masse has been a force for Canada since winning the women’s 100 backstroke at the World University Games in 2015.

Masse won the 50 backstroke final to become a world champion for the third time after the 100 in 2017 and 2019. Only Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel have also won gold at the last three world championships.

“She’s stood on the podium at every major championships since 2015,” Atkinson said of Masse.

McIntosh and Masse also claimed silvers in the 400 free and 100 backstroke, respectively.

Their achievements are inspiring others.

“Summer’s a beast,” Liendo said of McIntosh’s 200 butterfly win after he won his own first medal in the 100 freestyle. “I was watching it before I came to the ready room and I was like, Jeez, this kid’s insane, she definitely got the blood flowing. She got me pumped up.”

Liendo’s bronze was Canada’s first medal in the men’s 100 freestyle since Brent Hayden’s silver in 2011.

Taylor Ruck, Margaret MacNeil and Penny Oleksiak – all 22 – and the 21-year-old Kayla Sanchez won silver for Canada in the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay.

Oleksiak was 16 when she won gold in the 100 free at the 2016 Olympics. She has since gone on to become Canada’s most successful Olympian with seven medals. She has two silver and a bronze from relays so far this week in Budapest, and is tied with Ryan Cochrane as the most decorated Canadian swimmer at a worlds with eight medals, all from relays.

“Being on this team is such a privilege,” Oleksiak said. “It’s awesome to be a part of it and accomplish things like that.”

Atkinson, who joined Swimming Canada in 2013 after 12 years in different roles with British Swimming, says the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was a catalyst for how the Canadian government viewed sports. The organization Own the Podium was set up to help Canadian athletes prepare for those games and has since continued its support.

“They are our major funding agency to work with us, to partner with us,” Atkinson said. “We work with them on putting a pathway into place to put in systems and structures that support where our athletes are at, and our coaches.”

Atkinson also referred to facilities built for the 2015 Pan American Games, including the Toronto Pan Am sports park, where one of Swimming Canada’s high-performance centers is based, with another in British Columbia.

“Facilities are good – of course, we’d always like more – but what we’ve got, we get good access to, and we’re thankful,” Atkinson said.

The Associated Press

Jun 25 22

‘It’s insane’: Australia breaks world record in freestyle event at swimming championships

by ZwemZa

Gold medallists Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson, Mollie O’Callaghan and Jack Cartwright of Team Australia.Credit:Getty

Australia set a world record in the mixed 4×100 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships on Friday.

Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan clocked 3 minutes, 19.38 seconds in Budapest to shave two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the USA at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019.

“It’s insane … I think we were always going to be hard to beat,” said Chalmers.

The Australians ended the Americans’ three-title winning run from 2015 to 2019 in this event. All four were won with a world record.

Canada’s team of Joshua Liendo, Javier Acevedo, Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak was 1.23 behind the Australians for silver, and the Unites States team of Ryan Held, Brooks Curry, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan was third, 1.71 behind.

But the US team had reason to celebrate. Olympic champion Katie Ledecky stormed to a fifth straight 800m freestyle title.

Ledecky won in emphatic style, finishing more than 10 seconds faster than Australia’s Kiah Melverton to seal her 19th gold medal at this level and go past Ryan Lochte. The American is now within seven of Michael Phelps’ all-time record.

Italian Simona Quadarella matched her performance from last year’s Tokyo Games by securing a well-deserved bronze

“It’s just year after year of hard work. I think back to London and I made it the goal to not be a one-hit wonder, and here we are 10 years later,” Ledecky said.

“I’m happy with (the time), I kind of thought I’d be (8:0) 6 or 7, but to be 8.0 that’s right there, and fastest I’ve been for a couple of years, so a really good end to a great week.”

Hungarian swimmer Kristof Milak added to his 200m butterfly crown with victory in the 100m butterfly.

The Olympic silver medallist, who smashed the 200m butterfly world record earlier in the week, moved clear of the field with 25 metres to go and barely looked troubled as he secured the win in 50.14 seconds.

Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma came through in second in 50.94 seconds, finishing just ahead of Canadian Joshua Liendo Edwards.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom was also among the big winners as she continued her domination of the women’s 50m butterfly for her fourth consecutive world title in the event and 18th individual medal overall.

The 28-year-old edged out France’s Melanie Henique and Zhang Yufei of China for a place on the top of the podium.

In the women’s 200m backstroke, there was heartbreak for American Phoebe Bacon after she was pipped to the title by Kaylee McKeown despite leading for much of the race.

The Australian won by 0.04 seconds while Bacon’s compatriot Rhyan White was almost two seconds slower in third.

Benjamin Proud earned Britain’s first gold of the championships with victory in the men’s 50m freestyle, leaning on a strong finish to prevail in 21.32 seconds. American Michael Andrew clinched silver while Frenchman Maxime Grousset came third.

Reuters, AP

Jun 25 22

Ledecky stretches 22-medal record at worlds with 800 title

by ZwemZa

Gold medalist Katie Ledecky of the United States poses with her medal after the Women 800m Freestyle final at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Katie Ledecky extended her record haul of medals from the world swimming championships to 22 with her latest 800-meter freestyle win on Friday.

Ledecky clocked 8 minutes, 8.04 seconds to win the event for the eighth consecutive time at a worlds or Olympic Games.

“I think back to London,” Ledecky said of her first win at the 2012 Olympics. “I made it a goal to not be a one-hit wonder and here we are 10 years later, so I’m really proud of that and still excited for the future as well.”

Ledecky finished more than 10 seconds ahead of her rivals. Australia’s Kiah Melverton was 10.73 behind in second and Italy’s Simona Quadarella 10.96 behind for third.

Ledecky was under four seconds off the world record she set at the 2016 Olympics.

“I’m happy with that,” she said. “Fastest I’ve been in a couple of years. So really good end to a great week.”

Ledecky is the first swimmer to win a specific individual event at five successive worlds.

It’s her 19th gold at a worlds and her fourth this week. She helped the United States win the 4×200 freestyle relay final on Wednesday, two days after she won the 1,500 freestyle, which came two days after she won the 400 freestyle on the first day of racing in Budapest.

She completed the 400/800/1,500 triple for the fourth time at a single worlds, more than all the other swimmers who managed the feat combined. Germany’s Hannah Stockbauer, Australia’s Grant Hackett and China’s Sun Yang each managed it only once.

Ledecky has the most medals for a female swimmer in world championships history. Only Michael Phelps, who won 26, has more.

And she’s not finished yet.

“This is just the start, which is tremendously exciting for me,” said Ledecky, who added changes to her approach are paying off.

“There have been a couple of things that are a little different – training with the men, Bobby (Finke) and Kieran (Smith) and Trey (Freeman), who are all here, to try to keep up as much as I can and they push me,” Ledecky said. “I hope that they feel that they’ve benefited from me being there, and just a lot of work on my stroke and and my rhythm.”

With one day of racing remaining at Duna Arena, the United States has 37 medals, just one short of the record 38 it claimed the last time Budapest hosted the worlds in 2017.

The Associated Press

Jun 25 22

Ledecky dominates to take 800m freestyle gold, Milak completes butterfly double

by ZwemZa

Swimming – FINA World Championships – Duna Arena, Budapest, Hungary – June 24, 2022 Gold medallist Katie Ledecky of the U.S. celebrates on the podium after winning the women’s 800m freestyle final with silver medallist Australia’s Kiah Melverton and bronze medallist Italy’s Simona Quadarella REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Olympic champion Katie Ledecky stormed to a fifth straight 800m freestyle title at the swimming world championships in Budapest on Friday while home favourite Kristof Milak added to his 200m butterfly crown with victory in the 100m butterfly.

Ledecky won in emphatic style, finishing more than 10 seconds faster than Australia’s Kiah Melverton to seal her 19th gold medal at this level and go past Ryan Lochte. The American is now within seven of Michael Phelps’ all-time record.

Italian Simona Quadarella matched her performance from last year’s Tokyo Games by securing a well-deserved bronze.

“It’s just year after year of hard work. I think back to London and I made it the goal to not be a one-hit wonder, and here we are 10 years later,” Ledecky told reporters.

“I’m happy with (the time), I kind of thought I’d be (8:0) 6 or 7, but to be 8.0 that’s right there, and fastest I’ve been for a couple of years, so a really good end to a great week.”

Earlier, Olympic silver medallist Milak, who smashed the 200m butterfly world record earlier in the week, moved clear of the field with 25 metres to go and barely looked troubled as he secured the win in 50.14 seconds.

Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma came through in second in 50.94 seconds, finishing just ahead of Canadian Joshua Liendo Edwards.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom was also among the big winners as she continued her domination of the women’s 50m butterfly for her fourth consecutive world title in the event and 18th individual medal overall.

The 28-year-old edged out France’s Melanie Henique and Zhang Yufei of China for a place on the top of the podium.

In the women’s 200m backstroke, there was heartbreak for American Phoebe Bacon after she was pipped to the title by Kaylee McKeown despite leading for much of the race.

The Australian won by 0.04 seconds while Bacon’s compatriot Rhyan White was almost two seconds slower in third.

Australia were also dominant in the team events, with Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan setting a new world record in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay.

The quartet took gold ahead of Canada and the United States in 3:19.38, bettering the previous mark set by the Americans by 0.02 seconds.

“It’s insane… I think we were always going to be hard to beat,” said Chalmers.

Benjamin Proud earned Britain’s first gold of the championships with victory in the men’s 50m freestyle, leaning on a strong finish to prevail in 21.32 seconds. American Michael Andrew clinched silver while Frenchman Maxime Grousset came third.

Reuters

Jun 25 22

Each sport must set transgender rules says IOC despite criticism

by ZwemZa

The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 7, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has defended its position that it is up to each international sports body to set their own rules for transgender athletes’ inclusion, despite criticism from tennis great Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova, a gay rights trailblazer, had slammed the IOC earlier this week for what she said was a lack of leadership on the issue of the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport. read more

The issue was brought into focus by last weekend’s decision by swimming’s governing body FINA to ban athletes who have been through any part of male puberty from elite women’s competition. read more

“This is a very divisive, a very difficult situation, a very difficult topic where we have to try to balance fairness with inclusivity,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told a virtual news conference on Friday.

“But what we are clear about is that each sport should and does know best how to look at not only sport but also at its disciplines, where there is a reasonable advantage.”

The IOC last year revised its guidelines on inclusion with a new framework advising athletes should not be excluded on the grounds of “perceived” unfair advantage, but leaving it up to sports federations to decide the rules.

Adams said finalising those rules would take some time.

“But we cannot come forward with one rule. One short rule that fits all. It has to be by sport and even by discipline,” he said. “So we accept there will be criticism, that’s inevitable I’m afraid. But we will do our best to balance fairness and inclusivity.”

Navratilova had said striking the balance between inclusion and fairness down to individual events was extremely complex and that the IOC had offloaded responsibility for the issue onto sometimes poorly funded federations.

“The IOC has completely punted,” Navratilva, who has won a total of 59 Grand Slam titles, told The Australian newspaper.

“That ‘Oh, we will leave it up to the individual federations’. How can these individual federations within their country make their different rules?” she said.

“They have to do the research and the implementation … and it costs money to then figure it out, and it’s impossible.”

While FINA engaged leading scientists on the task force which drew up its rules, advocates for transgender inclusion argue that not enough studies have yet been done on the impact of transition on physical performance.

LGBT rights group Athlete Ally said FINA’s new eligibility criteria was “discriminatory” and “harmful”, while transgender cyclist Veronica Ivy described the policy as “unscientific”.

Reuters

Jun 24 22

Lara and Eugene, pooling into a record-breaking tango

by ZwemZa

Lara van Niekerk and her coach Eugene da Ponte have formed an excellent partnership. Picture SUPPLIED

Under every successful racing car there is often a mechanic and on top of every successful racehorse a tiny jockey. In the same vein, in the background of every successful swimmer is a vitally important coach.

But all too often it’s that coach-athlete bond that goes unnoticed. Take Pretoria’s Lara van Niekerk and Eugene da Ponte.

It’s not unreasonable to say that before SA nationals in Gqeberha earlier in April, outside swimming circles, the broader SA sporting public would not know who the duo were. That is despite Da Ponte having just coached Van Niekerk to breaststroke titles over 50m and 100m, and beating Tokyo Olympics 200m gold medallist and 100m silver medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker on both occasions.

Van Niekerk’s name is now quite rightly in the limelight. But it takes two to tango — enter Da Ponte, who himself has national colours for swimming and went on to captain the University of Toledo men’s team in the US (2000-2001) where he began his coaching career.

On his return home he coached briefly at Pretoria Aquatic Club (PAC) before diving into the corporate world for 10 years or so.

“The corporate world gave me a solid work ethic and since getting back into coaching I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best up-and-coming stars in junior swimming in SA over the past decade,” says Da Ponte. “I take pride in knowing that 85% of the swimmers involved in my programme, were novices/beginners who started their swimming career under my tutelage.”

At 42, Da Ponte could himself be termed junior when it comes to swimming coaches and he and Van Niekerk’s journey began when she was only eight years old.

It was something of a family production line, as he explains: “Lara’s two older siblings, Joa and Zander, both walked onto the pool deck I shared with my brother at the time, in 2010. Both were talented, but very raw, never having had formal club coaching. Lara used to sit in the juice-bar with her mom during her siblings’ training sessions, and stand on the couch watching the swimming.

“She became more interested in what was going on in the pool, and was eventually brave enough to come and stand near the pool to watch. After getting used to me, she started asking questions while watching, and eventually one afternoon came up to me during a training session and blurted out: ‘So when are you going to tell my mom that I must also start swimming’?”

Reflecting on the mature way Van Niekerk reacted to her latest triumphs and took it all in her stride Da Ponte says his charge is a natural born “chaser”.

“She’s had to compete against and chase swimmers, faster and older than her for her whole career and it’s never fazed her. That’s a major reason why she’s where she is today and why she’s so comfortable punching above her weight.”

Da Ponte takes a refreshingly holistic approach to coaching and is all too aware of the roles that swimming parents play or don’t play.

“In Lara’s case, I’ve been very lucky, I had to talk to her parents years ago, with her older sister, but they’ve since realised the relationship between swimmer and coach is an important aspect of performance and they need to allow us to bump heads at times so we can form a level of trust and understanding over the years.

“Through trust and understanding, and being involved in their life outside the pool, we as coaches then know how to handle the swimmers. Some days they have a good day and we can really push them. Other days they walk onto the pool deck and you can tell just by their facial expression that they’ve had a hard day.

“And then you don’t push them, but instead support them, and if necessary talk to them and try to assist them in whatever way you can.”

As for Van Niekerk it’s clear that she and her coach have an incredible connection. “We have such a great understanding of each other,” she says. “He’s the most supportive person, which to me is so important. I haven’t had many downs in my career but I remember so well that at 2019 Junior World champs, my first international gala, he reminded me that it was my first time out of SA  — I can’t expect to be amazing.”

She’s got a wise head on her young shoulders, and has her own “mental coach” in Meta4mance’s Emile de Bruin. “He’s also amazing and has helped so much in giving me the right tools to manage stress [and my time!] and teaching me about values and that I can only control what I’m doing myself.”

A huge fan of world 50/100m breaststroke world record holder Adam Peaty, the youngster is reading his book The Gladiator Mindset. “I’m learning so much from it — he’s a huge role model of mine.”

Has her life changed since the spotlight fell on her at nationals? “I really don’t think so. I’m pretty grounded although I did have a very special moment when a little girl asked me to pose for a photo and sign her swimming bag. That was amazing — I actually ‘fangirled’ more than the little girl,” she laughs.

And it’s great to see that athlete and coach both appreciate the funny side of life.

“I’ll never forget one year we had a gala at NTS champs in December. We arrived for evening finals, all of us stressed, and Eugene suddenly decided to start ballet-dancing. He was being so funny and goofy, we all just laughed and laughed and ended up swimming so fast in the finals — because we were so relaxed!”

Whether it’s the Tango or Ballet, this coach/athlete duo definitely look to be Quickstepping it to more success sooner rather than later.

By Mark Etheridge | Business Day

%d bloggers like this: