Medals for Coetzee, De Lange, but Chad and Lara still search for form

29 May 2024 - 19:27
By David Isaacson
Dune Coetzee celebrates after winning the 800m freestyle at the South African championships in Gqeberha in 2023.
Image: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images Dune Coetzee celebrates after winning the 800m freestyle at the South African championships in Gqeberha in 2023.

Swimmers Dune Coetzee and Caitlin de Lange made the podium on the first night of the Barcelona leg of the Mare Nostrum series on Wednesday, both finishing third in their events.

But veteran Chad Le Clos and Lara van Niekerk, the double Commonwealth Games breaststroke champion, are searching for form. 

Coetzee took bronze in the women’s 400m freestyle in 4min 12.11sec, behind Valentine Dumont of Belgium (4:07.35) and Francisca Martins of Portugal (4:11.13).

The qualifying standard for the Paris Olympics is 4:07.90.

Caitlin de Lange, swimming in lane one, finished third in the women’s 50m butterfly, a non-Olympic event, touching in a 26.57 personal best behind Egypt’s multi-world championship medallist Farida Osman (26.06) and Viola Scotto Di Carlo of Italy (26.47).

De Lange, who is looking to qualify for the Games in the 50m freestyle, edged Italian Elena Di Liddo into fourth spot by eight-hundredths of a second.

Hannah Pearse finished fourth in the women’s 200m backstroke in 2:12.67, just five-hundredths of a second out the medals and not much slower than the 2:12.04 personal best she clocked at the 2023 Universiade.

Le Clos had to settle for fifth against a powerful line-up in the 100m butterfly.

He touched in a distant 52.43, well behind Hungarian superstar Kristof Milak, who hammered out a new Mare Nostrum record of 50.95.

Nyls Korstanje of Holland was second in 51.97, Genki Terakado of Japan third in 52.03 and Italy’s Thomas Ceccon fourth in 52.15.

This is the only event in which Le Clos has qualified for the Paris Olympics and while he may be in hard training, he has yet to produce anything that is going to make his rivals sweat.

Le Clos went 52.07 at the South African championships in April and delivered his best time for the year so far at the Doha world championships in February, where he finished fifth in 51.48. At Tokyo 2020 the South African veteran, silver medallist at London 2012 and Rio 2016, failed to advance beyond heats in this race. 

He will need to match his 50.56 best from 2015 if he wants to make the top three in France.

Van Niekerk failed to make the 100m breaststroke A final after finishing 10th overall in the heats in 1:09.23, suggesting she may not have shaken off her poor form from the African championships early this month.

She is still desperately searching for an Olympic qualifying time after an administrative disaster where the 2023 galas at which she swam two times that should have booked her Paris ticket were not registered as qualifying events.

It’s a human error by a pen-pusher — probably Swimming South Africa’s, though they’re suggesting it’s the fault of World Aquatics — but either way the swimmer is paying the price.

If only administrators were subjected to the same stiff qualifying standards demanded of athletes.