Skip to content

Olympic dreams on the line at SA Trials

by ZwemZa on March 29th, 2021

Newton Park Swimming Pool (Facebook)

South African swimmers’ Olympic hopes will be on the line when they dive in for the SA Trials from 7 April.

But, unlike every four years since Olympic readmission, the trials for the Games will not be held in Durban, but in Port Elizabeth and with a much-reduced field so as to adhere to Covid protocols.

Much has been said and debated about the decision to move the Olympic trials to the Newton Park Swimming Pool, which hosted a disrupted national championships in 2013, when the water turned a murky green.

But Swimming South Africa (SSA) have emphasised the decision was taken with the swimmers in mind. King’s Park pool in Durban has experienced several problems in recent years, including a leaking roof, broken heaters and faulty lighting.

And while several swimmers and coaches have suggested it’s still good enough to host the Olympic trials, Swimming South Africa’s CEO Shaun Adriaanse explained: “As a result of unresolved maintenance issues at Kings Park Swimming Pool, various meetings were held to explore all available alternatives and to commit to a deadline for a final decision on the availability of Kings Park Swimming Pool.

“From a high performance point of view, the best interest of the swimmers remained the primary objective. Swimmers and coaches need commitment and/or confirmation regarding arrangements leading up to a national competition, especially an Olympic trial event to ensure proper preparation.

“Swimmers and coaches also need assurance of proper facilities in proper working condition to give every competitor the best possible opportunity to perform. In this regard, a decision had to be taken to relocate the SA Senior National Swimming Championships to Port Elizabeth.”

Adriaanse added: “KZN Aquatics confirmed their concerns regarding the maintenance issues at Kings Park Swimming Pool in writing and could not provide SSA with a formal confirmation of readiness for the Olympic trials to date. The only other alternative venue at sea level, complying with Fina standards, is Newton Park pool in Port Elizabeth. The decision to change venue was therefore never going to be a popular or pleasant decision, but unfortunately the only responsible decision.

“Furthermore, a decision to turn a blind eye on the critical maintenance issues at the Kings Park Pool would have been irresponsible and poor governance by SSA.”

Kings Park pool falls under the jurisdiction of eThekwini Municipality. Approached for comment on the progress of repairs at the facility, eThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said: “The roof at Kings Park Swimming Pool was damaged during the storms of 2019/20. This was a natural disaster which was not planned for and had resulted in an insurance claim that the city is busy engaging with its insurers. All matters are receiving attention from relevant departments within the city with the aim of resolving them and putting the facility back to full functionality. It should be borne in mind that, while all efforts are made to resolve this matter, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed to the delays of finalising this matter.”

Mayisela added: “The roof was initially damaged in the 2017 storms. An insurance claim was done for the damages and a contractor was appointed. When the contractor was on site they escalated prices from the original contract agreement and therefore the contract had to be terminated. The roof is therefore not repaired as a new contract has not been finalised yet.”

As for when repairs are likely to be completed, Mayisela said: “Feasibility studies are yet to be conducted to determine the budget required and thus the time frame to conduct these repairs will be deduced from the full assessment report. We cannot give a date as yet. It should be borne in mind that, while all efforts are made to resolve this matter, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed to the delays of finalising this matter.”

Meanwhile, after some initial complaints of a shallow pool and limited warm-up and swim-down facilities at Newton Park in Port Elizabeth, swimmers have come round to the idea and are simply eager to take the next step towards the postponed Tokyo Games.

Four-time Olympic medallist Chad le Clos reckoned: “In these difficult times, I am just delighted that we are racing. Obviously I love Kings Park – it’s home – but it’s an Olympic year and I just want to race, so I’m looking forward to PE.”

Tokyo medal hopeful Tatjana Schoenmaker’s coach Rocco Meiring stated: “Any swimmer in the country would prefer to swim at Kings Park, but on condition that Kings Park is fully operational and that the outdoor facility at Kings Park is also warm enough to warm-up in and also to swim down in, which at this stage is not the case.

“Newton Park pool in Port Elizabeth is the only other indoor alternative facility at sea level and there’s no reason why the swimmers can’t perform or swim fast times there.

“So, for Tatjana the pool is not the issue. The biggest issue for her is that the water is warm enough, the starting blocks are on competition spec and she can warm up and swim down before and after her races properly. We trust that Newton Park will give her that opportunity similar to Kings Park. She has been prepared to focus on delivering a performance on the date and not to get distracted by uncertainties of which pool or preferences of which pool is going to be used.”

For the country’s top swimmers like Le Clos and Schoenmaker, achieving Olympic qualification times shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s the ones who are on the edge of a breakthrough to international level that could be concerned, when hundredths of a second come into play. Thanks to its depth and other factors, King’s Park is often considered the fastest pool in the country.

But national coach, Graham Hill reckoned: “If the swimmers are prepared correctly, then there shouldn’t be a problem. There’s not much difference between the pools. Let’s not make excuses, let’s just get on with it.”

In the meantime, Swimming South Africa have confirmed that because of travel restrictions due to the Covid pandemic, overseas-based swimmers who usually have to make the trip back for the National Championships will not have to do so this year.

“All locally based swimmers must attend as they are in the country and are not affected by quarantine restrictions,” said Adriaanse. “Overseas swimmers can qualify in their country of residence as many are under travel bans or quarantine restrictions.

“SSA has also made provision for additional qualifying events in South Africa after completion of the Olympic trials. Any swimmer not performing at his or her absolute best during the Olympic trials will therefore have at least another opportunity to achieve an Olympic qualifying time.”

By Karien Jonckheere

From → African News

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: