Teen swimming sensations Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetzé led the medal charge on the second night of swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Saturday.
Van Niekerk claimed Team South Africa’s first medal of the Games by powering to gold in the 50m breaststroke final which featured three South African swimmers.
She claimed the victory in another Commonwealth Games record time of 29.73 seconds. Tatjana Schoenmaker finished fourth in 30.41 and Kaylene Corbett sixth in 31.10.
“It felt amazing, the crowd was going wild, so I knew it was going to be close. But I was just happy that I could swim the second fastest time I’ve ever done and to win a medal is a bonus so I’m super-happy,” said the beaming 19-year-old afterwards.
Olympic champion Schoenmaker, whose focus will be on her main 100 and 200m breaststroke events, was thrilled for her teammate to claim the first medal of the Games for the country.
“It’s amazing – we’re always supporting women so it’s great to have a woman grab the first one. We can just be so proud of them. Being the senior now in the group it’s nice to see the juniors come up and take the win,” she said after the race.
Later in the evening, Coetzé outgunned the field in the 100m backstroke final, speeding to gold in 53.78 seconds.
“It was definitely a bit closer than I expected and I was definitely expecting to go a bit faster than the semi but my coach told me it’s not about times at all, it’s just about getting the win. It’s my first international medal and it’s amazing to get a gold,” said Coetzé.
Elsewhere, Matt States finished sixth in the 200m freestyle final in 1:47.75 and followed that up with fourth in the 400m individual medley in 4:16.61.
“I was so tired – especially swimming the 200 and 400 heats this morning as well but next time I’ll probably be more specific and choose between them,” said Sates, who still have the 200IM, 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle to come.
Four other South Africans booked places in their respective finals.
Emma Chelius and Erin Gallagher progressed to the final of the 50m freestyle. Chelius was third in her semifinal in 24.94 to qualify fifth fastest while Gallagher was fourth in her semi in 25.31 to go through as seventh quickest. Olivia Nel just missed out after finishing fifth in the same semifinal in 25.38.
“I’m really proud of all our South African girls. It was really nice to have all three of us through to semis,” said Chelius.
“I was very happy to dip under that 25-second mark and hopefully I’ll go faster tomorrow night.”
Also making her way through was Rebecca Meder, who finished fourth in her 100m backstroke semifinal in a personal best time of 1:01.71.
“I’m very happy. Coming in I was only ranked about 15th so it’s a big PB for me and I’m hoping that tomorrow on my birthday I get a PB again,” she said.
“With sprinting there are so many things you can work on to try and drop a split so if I can drop.3 or .4 tomorrow I will be over the moon. I’m just stoked to be in the final to be honest.”
The other South African to progress was Brenden Crawford in the 100m breaststroke after finishing fourth in his semfinal in 1:0064. Just missing out was Michael Houlie, who finished fifth in the same race in 1:01.24.
“The 50 was my main focus coming into this competition and I think the 100 was more preparation for Paris  and I feel like I’m learning every time. It’s all practice towards that,” said Houlie afterwards.
Alani Ferreira (30.89) and Cornelle Leach (31.34) finished seventh and eighth respectively in the women’s 50m freestyle S13 final – the only event on offer for visually impaired swimmers.
Ferreira explained before the event that it was not a distance she would normally compete in but said: “It was actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I got to push myself in ways that I normally don’t so a bit of a change was nice.”
Leach added: “It was a good race. I did better in training this morning so it’s just the nerves that got to me but at the end of the day we’re here, we swam it, we got to represent out country so those are all wins.”
The men’s and women’s 4x100m freestyle relays ended off the nights action with the SA quartet of Aimee Canny, Chelius, Nel and Gallagher finishing fourth in the women’s race in 3:40.31 and the team of Guy Brooks, Clayton Jimmie, Andrew Ross and Brenden Crawford finishing sixth in the men’s race in 3:23.41.
Pictured above centre Lara Van Niekerk.
Pictured below Pieter Coetze.
Photo credit: TeamSA/Anton Geyser