14 August 2008
Despite a host of South African and African records being smashed in the Olympic swimming pool, South Africa has yet to win a medal as world and Olympic records tumble with almost boring regularity at Beijing’s Water Cube.
In other events – including boxing, fencing, shooting, hockey and beach volleyball – Team South Africa has so far been shut out.
To some it might appear as if South Africa’s swimmers have performed disappointingly, but the fact of the matter is that they have turned in faster times than ever before.
Unfortunately for the swimming team, the jump in the performances of the world’s leading swimmers has been astonishing and unprecedented. So many records have been set that the achievements have lost some of their shine.
Jean Basson achieved South Africa’s best result so far with fourth place in the 200 metres freestyle final, which was won by US superstar Michael Phelps in a world record time.
Basson qualified for the final by winning his semi-final in the third best time, with Phelps fourth fastest. The American then pulled out something special to smash the previous record by almost a second.
Ryk Neethling had a disappointing swim in the 100 freestyle heats, finishing last in his race in 49.28. Lyndon Ferns, though, swam 48.26 to qualify for the semi-finals. He then posted a continental record of 48.00 seconds to qualify seventh fastest for the final. Eamon Sullivan won the race in a world record 47.05.
100m freestyle final
In the final, Ferns was fractionally slower than in the semi-finals in a time of 48.04, which was good for sixth place. Frenchman Alain Bernard claimed the gold ahead of Sullivan, while the USA’s Jason Lezak shared the bronze with Brazil’s Cesar Cielo Filho.
George du Rand won his 200 metres backstroke heat in an African record of one minute, 59.62 seconds. He lowered the mark by one-hundredth of a second in the semi-finals, but that was good enough for eighth place only and he didn’t move on to the final.
Darian Townsend placed sixth in his semi-final to miss out on the final of the men’s 200 metres individual medley. His time in the heats of 1:59.22 sliced more than a second off the continental record. He was a touch slower in the final, clocking 1:59.65.
Two under African record
William Diering and Neil Versfeld failed to progress beyond the semi-finals of the men’s 200 breaststroke, although they both managed to lower the African record. Versfeld, ultimately, claimed it with a time of 2:10.06.
After setting an African record in the heats for the 4 by 200 freestyle relay, South Africa were beaten into eighth place in the final as the USA won the event in a world record time.
Kathryn Meaklim bowed out of the women’s 200 metres butterfly in the semi-finals, finishing last in her race in 2:11.74. She had won her heat in an African record time of 2:09.41.
Suzaan van Biljon was some way off her swim in the heats when she finished seventh in the semi-finals of the 200 metres breaststroke. Her earlier time of 2:25.51 was almost three seconds faster.
Lize-Marie Retief didn’t make the semi-finals of the women’s 100 freestyle, but her time of 55.17 seconds clipped two-hundredths of a second off Helene Muller’s record that had stood since the Sydney Olympics.
Jessica Pengelly swam 2:15.80 in her heat in the women’s 200 individual medley.
Rowers Ramon di Clemente and Shaun Keeling booked a place in the final of the men’s pairs after finishing third in their semi-final. They did it the hard way, fighting their way up the standings from fifth at 2 000 metres to fourth over the next 500 metres, and finally to third over the last 500 metres.
Di Clemente won bronze in Athens four years ago with Donovan Cech and is hoping to, at least, repeat that feat.
Rika Geyser made it through to the B final of the women’s singles sculls after a convincing win by 14 seconds over second placed Soraya Jadue of Chile in her semi-final.
Archer Calvin Hartley was beaten in the first round of the men’s individual competition by Cuba’s Carlos Stevens, but only after the match had gone down to a sudden death shootout.
South Africa’s hockey teams have suffered some disastrous hammerings. After being crushed 6-0 by The Netherlands, the women’s team was on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline against China.
Unfortunately, for the men’s team, matters have been far worse. They went down 5-0 to The Netherlands in their opening game and were then torn apart by Australia, who romped to a 10-0 victory.
If it’s any consolation to the men’s team, the Dutch and Australian teams are ranked one and two in the world and are professional outfits, which South Africa is not.
In events such as shooting, beach volleyball, boxing, and fencing, South Africa has been shut out, failing to make an impact.
Clearly, there are worrying signs but, as the glut of records in swimming proves, a lack of medals might not equal a lack of performance.
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