South African swimmers keep flag flying

2 August 2012

South African swimmers continued to flag the country’s flag high at the London Olympic Games on Wednesday, with both Chad le Clos and Suzaan van Biljon achieving notable milestones.

Le Clos became the first South African swimmer to qualify for four Olympic finals at a single Games since the country returned to the Olympic fold in 1992, while Van Biljon bettered a long-standing record set by Penny Heyns, who did the breaststroke double in the 100m and 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Swimming in the semi-finals of the 200m individual medley, Le Clos did not have expectations of reaching the final – he is better suited to the longer 400 IM – but he made it into the top eight in the world, as the swimmer with the equal seventh fastest time.

A career best

The Olympic 200m butterfly champion swam in the faster of the two semi-finals and finished fifth in a career best time of 1:58.49. He admitted afterwards, however, that his breaststroke leg was a weakness, which made it hard to contend with the front-runners.

Nonetheless, the 20-year-old Le Clos’ achievements should not be underestimated. To be among the top eight swimmers in the world in four events is a remarkable record, never mind the fact that he also won gold in the 200m butterfly.

Unfortunately, because of a clash with the 100m butterfly programme, an event which favours Le Clos more, he pulled out of the 200 IM final on Monday morning.

Van Biljon made it into the 200m breaststroke semi-finals with a time of 2:25.94 in the heats. After the first semi-final, won by Denmark’s Rikke Pedersen in 2:22.23, and with six of the eight swimmers going under her time in the heats, it was clear that Van Biljon needed to pull out something special in the second semi-final.

Bettered Penny Heyns’ record

She did just that. While the USA’s Rebecca Soni won the race in a stunning world record of 2:22.00, Van Biljon, swimming in lane two, put in a strong showing to finish third in 2:23.21, bettering the 2:23.64 African record held by Penny Heyns since the Pan Pacific Championships in August 1999.

Van Biljon was second to only Soni after the first 50 metres and remained in second place at the halfway mark. With 50 metres to swim, she slipped to just 0.09 seconds behind Japan’s Satomi Suzuki, who went to finish second in 2:22.40.

The new South African record holder will again swim in lane two in the final, which takes place on Thursday evening.

Hockey

There was also good news for the South African men’s hockey team, which held Great Britain to a 2-2 draw. With England ranked fourth in the world (the composite team does not feature in the rankings), it was a strong result for 12th ranked South Africa.

At the Riverbank Arena, the British took an early lead through Ashley Jackson, who rocketed a penalty corner into the top left hand corner in the 14th minute.

The home side had controlled matters until they opened the scoring, but South Africa came back into the game after going behind and enjoyed the better of the possession. At half-time, though, it remained Great Britain 1, South Africa 0.

Level

After the break, the men in green and gold continued to push for a goal, but the British defence held firm. Then, with 11 minutes to play, South Africa were awarded a first penalty corner and, like Britain with their first penalty corner, they scored. Captain Austin Smith provided the finish to make it 1-1.

Shortly after that, in the 64th minute, the predominantly British crowd was silenced as Jonty Robinson struck a pearler to put South Africa 2-1 in front with only five minutes to play.

In desperation and in search of a goal, Britain replaced goalkeeper James Fair for an extra outfield player and the gamble played off almost immediately.

Draw

A ball into the circle from Richard Smith took a couple of deflections, including off of a South African foot and off of the stick of Ashley Jackson into the goal. The South Africans asked for a video referral, claiming the ball had come off the back of Jackson’s stick, but there was no conclusive evidence of this and the goal stood, making it 2-2, with only minutes remaining in the contest.

South Africa next face Spain on Friday. The Spaniards are ahead of South Africa in the standings on goal difference only.

In their previous outings, they were also well beaten by Australia, going down 5-0 – South Africa lost 6-0 – and drawing 1-1 with Pakistan.

Badminton

After the disqualification of a number of top teams from the women’s doubles in the badminton competition, because they had tried to throw results for a more favourable draw, the South African pair of Michelle Edwards and Annari Viljoen found themselves in a surprising quarterfinal against the Russian pair of Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova.

Unfortunately, they could not take advantage of that break and were well beaten 21-9, 21-7.

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