1 August 2005
South Africa’s Roland Schoeman can rightfully claim to be the fastest swimmer in the world after winning the 50 metres freestyle at the FINA World Championships in Montreal on the weekend.
He flew through the water to touch in 21.69 seconds, the second-fastest time in history, bettered only by the world record of 21.64 secured by the legendary Russian Alexander Popov. Schoeman’s time was also a huge improvement on his own African record of 21.98.
This victory won Schoeman his second gold medal of the championships, improving his overall haul to two gold medals and a silver. The other gold came in the 50 metres butterfly in a world record 22.96, while the silver was in the 100 metres freestyle in 48.28.
In the lead-up to the race, Schoeman was ill with a chest problem, but he believes it helped him swim better in the final. He felt being sick took some pressure off him to perform. “You don’t know what to expect,” he said.
Looking back on his performances in Montreal, Schoeman conceded that he was a little surprised by his success: “I really didn’t expect this,” he admitted.
His victory in the 50 metres freestyle proved a real confidence booster, with Schoeman reckoning afterwards that he could improve on Popov’s record. He’ll get the chance to do just that on Wednesday at a meeting in the US.
Disappointment for Neethling
While Schoeman stole the spotlight with his sensational swim, the 50 metres freestyle proved a huge disappointment for Ryk Neethling, who surprisingly missed out on a place in the semi-finals.
Nonetheless, the two men accounted for South Africa’s total medal haul of two golds, a silver and two bronzes.
That left SA in 10th place on the medal table, behind Zimbabwe, who had Kirsty Coventry to thank for winning two gold medals and two silvers, and just ahead of the Netherlands, who won two golds, a silver and a bronze.
The US topped the table followed by Australia, China, Russia and host Canada.
For Neethling, the FINA World Championships saw him making it onto the podium in an individual event at a major world event after 12 years of international competition, when he won bronze in both the 100 and 200 metres freestyle.
Neethling started his career as a 1 500 metres specialist before making the switch to sprint events. So his results in Montreal are the cherry on the top of an amazing achievement.
Schoeman started out as a sprint specialist – 50 metres events only. But he has now proved he is one of the world’s elite 100 metres freestyle swimmers, after winning silver medals at both the Olympic Games and the World Championships. He also showed that he is a real threat over 50 metres in butterfly and freestyle, beating the best at major world meetings.