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We’ll prove our mettle, says Schoenmaker

by ZwemZa on December 12th, 2020

Tatjana Schoenmaker (Twitter)

When 22-year-old Tatjana Schoenmaker touched the wall in the 200 meter breaststroke final at the 2019 World Championships in Budapest, she was overcome with emotion. The South African won the silver medal in her best event and set an African record in the semifinals with a 2:21:79.

Her time in the final was slower than the night before, but it didn’t matter. She was on the podium and would be seeing her country’s flag raised at the major international meet of the year. It was a huge moment not only for her, but also for women’s swimming in South Africa.

It was the first medal ever won by a South African female swimmer at Worlds. And to make it even more special, she was handed her medal by South African Olympic champion Penny Heyns, who was a champion breaststroker in her heyday during the 1990s until she retired in 2001.

Heyns, who captured two gold medals at Atlanta in 1996, is the only woman in Olympic history to have won both the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Even though Heyns had an illustrious career, she never made it to the podium at the World Championships, finishing fifth in the 100 and sixth in the 200 breast at the 1998 Worlds in Perth, Australia.

“It meant so much,” Schoenmaker said of her silver medal performance. “You can see it was an overwhelming experience. I still remember after the race and walking to my bag to go and get changed, it just didn’t feel real. I was like, ‘Tatjana, you just won silver,’ and it felt so weird.

“For me, it was my first World Champs, so I just wanted to really experience it. It was so nice racing the world’s best and being able to try and swim fast times in this crazy new experience.

“And then having Penny Heyns hand me my medal—it was so special because…what are the odds? She’s standing there giving me my medal—it was overwhelming, but it was such an honor to be able to share that moment with Penny. She is honestly a true champion for South Africa.”

Just three years earlier, however, women’s swimming in South Africa wasn’t nearly as promising. In 2016, not one single female swimmer had qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio. And their country hadn’t won an Olympic medal in a women’s event since Heyns took bronze in the 100 breast in 2000!

To make matters worse, the women’s team certainly didn’t receive any sympathy from the local media. In fact, because of their disparaging comments, the swimmers were put on the defensive.

“It was for us to show them (the media) because we really got bad media exposure in 2016,” Schoenmaker said. “They basically said no girls made it and that we were basically useless! And we were those girls! It wasn’t a nice feeling because we were all so young. One of the oldest girls on the team is Tayla Lovemore (now 25), and she is coming through.”

And so now is the rest of the team… – Swimming World

From → African News

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